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Tonnes of elvers poached in 2023, but border agents find no evidence

By Evan Taylor Dec 7, 2023 | 2:11 PM

Image: Submitted/Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Baby eels, also known as elvers, command premium prices in Canada when sold to Asian markets for cultivation as food. This lucrative trade has fueled a surge in illegal poaching in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick earlier this year.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) recently reported that, despite widespread poaching in Maritime rivers, no evidence of black-market shipments of baby eels or elvers out of Canada has been found this year.

Daniel Anson, the agency’s director of general intelligence and investigations, disclosed this information during a recent appearance before the standing Fisheries and Oceans Canada parliamentary committee examining illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.

“We have not had any seizures of elver eels this specific year. We have effected a variety of different examinations to ensure compliance and have not found anything that was illicit or destined abroad that had been harvested illegally or the result of unreported fishing,” Anson testified.

However, this assertion was met with skepticism by Rick Perkins, Member of Parliament for South Shore-St. Margarets, an area heavily impacted by poaching.

“It tells me they weren’t doing their job,” Perkins remarked.

Elvers are Canada’s most valuable seafood species by weight, fetching up to $5,000 per kilogram.

The translucent elvers are most often flown to Asia for cultivation as food. Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) had to close the legal harvest this spring due to rampant poaching in rivers of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Despite the closure, unauthorized harvesting persisted during the spring migration of tiny eels from the ocean into rivers. Some Indigenous fishermen argued that they were exercising their treaty rights to catch elvers without DFO approval, a stance the department considered as poaching.

Perkins Presses DFO Deputy Minister

During the parliamentary committee hearing, Perkins challenged DFO deputy minister Annette Gibbons about CBSA’s claim.

“Last week, the Canada Border Services Agency said that they didn’t believe that any elvers left this country across the border. Do you agree with that?,” he asked.

“I think we think that elvers do leave in general but I think the CBSA are best positioned to comment on that,” Gibbons replied.

“But in their testimony, they didn’t even know that the elver season is over now,” said Perkins.

“So does DFO actually communicate with CBSA when there is poaching going on to tell them to secure the borders?”

“We do,” she said.

“So why haven’t they?,” Perkins pressed.

“I can’t answer that for them, sir,” Gibbons responded.

CBSA representatives who also spoke at the hearing were unable to provide reasoning as to why no seizures were made.