Sharp-nosed dog sniffs out illegal lobster fishing
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When Department of Fisheries and Oceans officials suspect there is illegal lobster fishing going on they just whistle.
Quicker than you can say surf and turf, Sonic, a lobster-sniffing German shepherd — one of only two such dogs in the world — is on the case, tracking down illegally caught pregnant females.
“Sonic … is trained to find female lobsters with eggs on them, What he is smelling is the (natural) glue holds the eggs to the lobster’s belly,” said John Stuart, a federal fisheries officer and dog handler.
Stuart and his three-year-old canine partner put in a lot of miles from early April through autumn as they travel the Maritimes making sure that lobster fisherman aren’t keeping pregnant females that they’ve pulled out of traps. Sonic took over from Buddy, who is semi-retired now.
“As far as I know, Buddy was the first dog in the world (trained to sniff out ‘berried’ female lobsters),” Stuart told the Star. “You are not allowed to have female lobsters with eggs on them. You can see the eggs … on the abdomen of the lobster. They are to be put back in the water because that’s your next generation.”
When Sonic sniffs out a crate with an illegal lobster in it he sits and waits for Stuart to sort through the catch. “I say he’s about 85 per cent accurate,” says the handler.
Sonic will even detect female lobsters that are about to produce eggs, as well as those that have dropped them.
Stuart, who has been a dog handler for 22 years, said Sonic’s ability to find the illegally caught lobsters saves the federal department untold labour.
“It saves us times going through hundred of crates of lobsters looking for them. If we have 100 crates of lobsters with 100 pounds in each crate it would take two officers probably two hours to go through every crate, where the dog can do it in five minutes,” he said.
Stuart said one fisherman even tried to hide lobster eggs up the exhaust of his truck to avoid detection. Sonic found them “within seconds.”
For those days when they don’t find any berried lobsters, Stuart carries along some sample eggs from the biological station in St. Andrew’s, N.B. that he hides in a case just to keep Sonic sharp. When Sonic makes a find he gets rewarded — but only then.
“He’s also trained to find cooked lobster. The reason we are doing that is because some of the scallops draggers are bringing up lobsters and then they cook the lobsters and sell them on the side, which they are not supposed to do because they don’t have a licence for it,” said Stuart, who is stationed along with Sonic in Saint John, N.B.
Stuart has been with the Fisheries Department for 30 years. The plan is that both of he and Sonic will retire in four years.
“To me it is a paid hobby. I love dogs,” he said