Alleged traffickers appear in court

Richard Froese
South Peace News

Several people from the High Prairie area charged in a major illegal fishing operation made their first appearance in High Prairie provincial court Feb. 24.
The six are among 33 individuals from High Prairie, Faust, Slave Lake, and other Alberta communities, facing 80 charges under the General Fisheries [Alberta] Regulations by Alberta Fish and Wildlife.
Louis Robert Bellrose is charged with three counts of unauthorized selling of fish. He is also charged with failing to comply with terms of a fishing licence and failing to carry a fishing licence. Bellrose pleaded not guilty and set a trial for July 3.
David Rochon is set to go to trial Sept. 4 on one charge of unlawfully handle or store fish after pleading not guilty.
Elizabeth Ann Andrews is charged with three counts of unauthorized selling of fish. She reserved plea and is scheduled to next appear in court March 23.
Ryan Ira Andrews is charged with three counts of unauthorized selling of fish. He reserved plea and will appear in court March 23.
Lee Roy Andrews is charged with two counts of unauthorized selling of fish. He reserved plea and is scheduled to next appear in court March 2.
Mickey Roland Andrews is charged with one count of unauthorized selling of fish. He pleaded not guilty and set a trial for May 1 in High Prairie.
Mohammad Reza Akbari was charged with two counts of unauthorized buying of fish. One count was withdrawn by Crown prosecutor Nuha Abunada while Akbari waived his guilty plea to Edmonton provincial court on March 30.
It is alleged the fish were netted primarily in Lesser Slave Lake and Winagami Lake under the guise of Métis and Treaty domestic fishing rights.
Charges include the unlawful sale, purchase and possession of fish, including lake whitefish and walleye.
The other people charged reside in Morinville, Edmonton, Vegreville, Bashaw, Castor and Halkirk.
Alberta Fish and Wildlife announced the charges Jan. 23 after concluding a two-year undercover investigation focused on the trafficking of fish in northern and central Alberta.
The investigation began when officers received information alleging that unlawful trafficking of fish was occurring in the High Prairie and Faust areas.
Officers began an undercover investigation in November 2017. The investigation revealed a network of illegal killers and buyers of fish.
There is no commercial fishery in Alberta and Métis/Treaty harvesting rights allow for personal subsistence use only.
The final undercover buy on Jan. 23 resulted in the seizure of a 2002 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 truck, four gill nets, five fish tubs and gill netting equipment.
During the course of the investigation it was estimated that approximately 12,000 pounds of fish were allegedly illegally killed and subsequently trafficked from Lesser Slave Lake and Winagami Lake.
All fish that were seized during the operation will be distributed to people in need throughout Alberta.
Any unregulated trade in fish and wildlife helps fuel black market demand, which could lead to increased poaching and pressure on fish and wildlife populations.
The penalty for trafficking fish is a maximum $100,000 and one-year incarceration per count.

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