An almost three-year legal odyssey for a persistent local crab poacher—one that involved three enforcement agencies in two countries—ended in Surrey Provincial Court with a conviction, more than $12,000 in penalties, and a five-year ban on fishing anywhere in B.C.
But the offender managed to keep his boat after his Canadian court date, unlike what happened to him in the U.S. legal system.
The legal travails of Laird Goddyn started on April 24, 2018, when he was investigated by officials from the Washington state department of fish and wildlife on suspicion of illegal crabbing in U.S. waters off Boundary Bay. (Boundary Bay is bounded by Surrey, Delta, White Rock, Point Roberts, and the Semiahmoo First Nation.)
"He was apprehended by American authorities," Fisheries and Oceans Canada (FOC) conservation and protection branch field supervisor Bev Funk told the Straight by phone today (June 17, 2021). Funk, who said she was personally involved with the case in Canada, said Goddyn had eight crabs in his possession during a time when the U.S. recreational crab fishery was closed.
Funk said a Washington court found Goddyn guilty and he forfeited his boat, which she described as a "21-foot Bayliner". Because Goddyn allegedly made statements to U.S. authorities about possibly selling the crabs, they advised their Canadian counterparts to be aware of his activities.
According to an FOC news release, RCMP advised FOC fisheries officers on June 30, 2018, at their Langley detachment that Goddyn had been found in possession of 89 live Dungeness crabs at the White Rock Elgin Park Marina during a recreational fisheries compliance inspection.
Funk told the Straight that it wasn't the size of the crabs that was the problem but the number. "They were, ninety-nine percent of them, over 165 millimetres, which is the legal size," she said. The legal limit, though, Funk said, was four.
Funk confirmed for the Straight that the species of crab involved was Dungeness, one of the most prized food crabs on the West Coast of North America and the most important commercial crab fishery in the Pacific Northwest. She added that after officers collected evidence, they released the crabs.
A lengthy (six to eight months) investigation ensued, Funk said, that involved witness interviews and obtaining different search warrants, among other things. She said Goddyn ended up being charged with possession only, not illegal sales.
Then, Funk said, by the time a court date came around, the COVID-19 pandemic had caused provincial courts to suspend regular operations.
Finally, on May 19, 2021, in Surrey Provincial Court, Judge Satinder Sidhu found Goddyn guilty of violating the federal Fisheries Act and fined him $7,500, banned him from holding either fresh- or saltwater fishing licences for five years, and made him pay $4,638.48 in storage fees for the return of his second boat—again, Funk said, a 21-foot Bayliner.
Funk said that illegal crab fishing (and clam-digging) has become more common recently for several reasons, one of which is that many people have had more spare time on their hands during the pandemic. Another reason? "People like to eat crab," she said. "It [poaching] is common, especially here in the Lower Mainland, where opportunities have been reduced for salmon fishing.
"It's not like [salmon] fishing—you don't need a lot of experience, and the gear is relatively cheap."