On Monday, Nov. 23, 2020, The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) in Ontario, issued a release announcing the results of their investigation and subsequent punishment of tournament organizer Ben Woo who discarded 195 bass that died while under the care of his tournament staff at the B1 Tournament in July of 2019.
The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) wants to remind fishing tournament organizers that they must follow all the conditions of licences and authorizations issued to them.
On July 15, 2019, conservation officers responded to several tips about a bass fishing tournament that had been held on the St. Lawrence River near Gananoque. The conservation officers were told there were dozens of fish killed over the course of the two-day tournament.
An investigation discovered 195 dead bass, including 188 dead bass in plastic bags found in the garbage.
On November 10, 2020, via conference call, Justice of the Peace Stéphanie Goffin-Boyd convicted Ben Woo of Tracyville, New Brunswick of one count of failing to abide by the terms and conditions of a licence.
Woo was the tournament organizer who held the licence allowing fishing tournament participants to transport live fish from Ontario waters to be weighed and measured, and then to transport the live fish back to the waters they were taken from. Some of the standard conditions of the licence require oxygen levels and temperatures that keep fish alive and healthy, immediate mandatory reporting to MNRF if more than five per cent of the fish die, and that any dead fish be kept on ice, so they don't spoil.
Woo was fined $9,000 and had his recreational fishing licence suspended for five years.
MNRF conservation officers continue to patrol and protect our natural resources during the current COVID-19 outbreak and would like to remind everyone that by respecting seasons, sanctuaries, bag and possession limits we all help ensure our natural resources stay healthy. Visit Ontario's website to learn more about how the province continues to protect Ontarians from COVID-19.
To report a natural resource violation or provide information about an unsolved case, members of the public can call the ministry TIPS line toll free at 1-877-847-7667 or contact your local ministry office. You can also call Crime Stoppers anonymously at 1-800-222-TIPS. For more information about unsolved cases, please visit ontario.ca/mnrftips.
195 dead bass were recovered by conservation officers
Ben Woo issued a public statement through his social media pages following the press release from the MNRF. Here is his statement:
An article came out today about an incident that happened in July 2019 at a bass fishing tournament I produced in Ontario. As a production, we did not meet some of the protocols set forth and as a result we have to pay a steep penalty. Certainly not the way we intended things to turn out after having produced tournaments at the highest level for over 10 years but yet we still made mistakes. As Director of the tournament at the time, I take full and complete responsibility for the incident and in turn accept the penalties put forth by the province of Ontario.
Certainly not my proudest moment but I own it 100%.
After having dedicated over a decade doing my very best to help advocate the Canadian competitive fishing scene, I could never have foreseen an outcome such as this. No matter how much effort, organization and planning one puts into something, systems can fail, poor judgements can be made and mistakes can happen.
Since the incident, I've had a lot of time to contemplate what happened and I wish I could go back and fix it. I sincerely regret any negative impact this incident has had on the Canadian sport fishing community and I pledge to use this experience as fuel to continue promoting that which I am most passionate about.
I cannot express in words how deeply this has personally affected me and those closest to me. It is my commitment to them that I will move forward and put every effort into restoring their faith in me as an ambassador to Canadian sport fishing.
Anglers were glad to help enforce fish care on famed fishery
A statement from the angler that notified Game and Fish was shared with us. This person got conservation officers involved. Here is his full statement:
Hi Guys. Back in the summer of 2019, some of you probably heard rumours that Ben Woo killed a bunch of fish during a 2-day B1 Tournament in Gananoque. Bruce Tufts and I were actually part of the team that helped discover the dead fish and eventually convict Ben. Now that the court case has been settled I can finally tell you what really happened that weekend.
On Saturday night we started getting reports from tournament anglers that Ben was killing most of the fish weighed in that day. On Sunday afternoon I went down to the 2nd day weigh-in to see what was going on. Turns out that Ben had a permit to use a live release boat but instead brought 2 small aerated tanks to hold the fish.
Even though he had no way to take them out of Clarks Marina, for some reason he still took possession of all the fish and put them into the tanks. As more and more 4-6 pound Smallies were added to the tanks they quickly depleted the available oxygen and began to die. What I can't understand is why he would turn around and do the same thing the 2nd day when they knew there was a problem.
After filling in Bruce on what happened, the next morning he asked me to go with him to Clarks Marina to meet a Conservation officer. We figured there was no way Ben could have loaded that many fish into his truck so we were pretty sure they were still somewhere on the property.
It broke my heart to see it but eventually we found the dumpster where Ben tried to hide all the garbage bags full of dead Bass. After cutting open the bags and removing all the rotting fly infested dead fish we counted 190 Smallmouth and 5 Largemouth.
I've attached a couple pictures of the dead fish pile so you can see how just much damage one irresponsible tournament organizer can inflict on our fisheries.. Personally I think he got off light considering the amount of fish involved. Fortunately Bruce was able to take the carcasas to his lab for research so they weren't completely wasted.
The only good thing about all of this was how he got caught. It wasn't some random passerby that happened to see a problem and report it. Instead it was us, the tournament community, that couldn't accept what Ben was doing and turned him in. A huge thank you goes out to all of you that were involved.
We are glad to see tournament fish care being policed on fisheries like the St. Lawrence River. It's a gem of a smallmouth fishery and should be guarded as such. Hopefully the whole incident serves as a stern reminder to guard resources and leads to proper precautions in future tournaments.