A Richmond company that claims to sell only sustainable and legal seafood says it is the innocent victim of a dispute between first nations and the federal department of fisheries and oceans.
Jason Ogilvie, president of Pasco Seafood Enterprises, said in an interview Monday his company took all the appropriate steps last summer to ensure its purchase of salmon in a native seine fishery in Johnstone Strait was legitimate.
"We feel everything was done correctly, and DFO has said as much to us," he said. "We've been very cooperative, we've done our due diligence. We're not trying to hide anything by any means."
The Vancouver Sun revealed Saturday that federal fisheries officers on Aug. 8, 2011, seized 31 totes of salmon from Pasco, alleging it was unlawfully caught in a first nations fishery in Johnstone Strait. The salmon was sold for $90,000, money that remains the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between Pasco and the federal government.
Ogilvie said the 31 totes represented about 15,875 kilograms of salmon. DFO estimates that 64,151 kilograms of salmon were illegally caught in the native economic opportunity fishery.
Such fisheries allow for limited commercial sales. But in this case, fisheries officials allege the fish were illegally caught in a "closed area by fish harvesters that did not have a licence to catch the fish."
Responded Ogilvie: "There has to be greater clarity, greater communications, between first nations and DFO."
Federal fisheries said Monday the case remains under investigation and refused to comment further.
In a written statement, Ogilvie stated: "The case pertains to a dispute between the DFO and the First Nations band with regard to the interpretation of their fishing agreement, specifically whether it permitted the First Nations band to catch the sockeye salmon in the Johnstone Strait, where the First Nations band made a protocol agreement to harvest in the traditional territory of another First Nations band."
Ogilvie would not name the two first nations.
In purchasing the salmon, the statement continues, Pasco obtained all proper documentation and "understood that the fish had been lawfully caught...."
On its website, Pasco states: "Our commitment to environmentally sustainable fishing practices also means we do not purchase fish which have been caught, landed or otherwise procured illegally. We ensure the legality of our supply chain by engaging openly in dialogue with all parties including fishermen, governments, trade associations, non-governmental organizations and food retailers."
The website also says Pasco has "grown into an operation of international scope and scale reaching from the high seas of Russia and Northern China" as well as Alaska and B.C.
Asked how he could assure a catch in Russia when he cannot in B.C., Ogilvie noted he cannot "track that fish directly to the fishermen" but that he is working with the Marine Stewardship Council to certify such fishing practices.