Fisheries officials in Nova Scotia, Canada say that a world-class angler from Florida may be connected to a number of fishing violations committed by a fishing charter in Halifax.
According to the CBC, the accusation comes after an undercover investigation late last year when officials posed as customers and hired the services of Zappa Charters, eventually going out to sea with Captain Dale Trenholm and his crew. Undercover agents claim that during the trip, Trenholm and his crew committed over 30 separate fishing violations. At one point, Trenholm allegedly showed agents a video of champion angler Stephanie Choate committing violations of her own.
Although Choate currently faces no charges, officials said she and Trenholm’s crew failed to tag bluefin tuna or log their catches in a log. Officials also stated that the anglers caught tuna, brought them on board, and threw them back in the water when they reeled in an even larger tuna. This practice is called “high-grading,” and experts say it can be extremely destructive to fish stocks since even live fish returned to the water this way have a high chance of mortality.
“If a larger fish is caught, the larger (and more profitable) fish is then tagged… while the smaller fish is disposed of at sea,” read court documents obtained by the CBC. “The consequences of this practice in terms of conservation and protection is [sic] obvious.”
During their investigation, agents say that Trenholm’s crew caught and killed a bluefin tuna, brought it on board and ate part of it before tossing away the evidence. The fish was not logged.
Trenholm told the agents that during a trip last October, Choate caught 10 bluefin tuna before the crew tagged her final and largest fish. Descriptions on her social media accounts appear to corroborate that story, although they have since been set to private. It is not known exactly how those fish were released but fisheries officials believe that Choate committed several fishing violations. They did not specify whether they wish to pursue charges against the angler.
Choate is regarded as a top international angler with a focus on conservation. She is currently one of the directors for Wild Oceans, a US-based marine conservation group. When she won the 2014 Blue Marlin World Cup last year, she announced that she would be donating her $100,000 cash prize to the organization. Her father, Tim Choate, also serves as chairman on the organization’s board.
“Stephanie is an experienced angler who grew up fishing for sailfish in Guatemala at her father’s (Tim) fishing lodge. She travels the world fishing competitively and spreading the word for marine conservation,” read her bio on the board’s page.
Most recently, Stephanie Choate caused additional controversy when she posted a picture of herself riding a tuna with a wetsuit and bottle of champagne.
“It’s hard to explain the love I have for these fish,” she wrote as a caption to the photo on her Instagram account, which is no longer available. “They live in my heart.”
Choate has not yet responded to the allegations against her. Zappa Charters says they will be fighting the charges in court.
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