Track­ing a stealthy smelt seller

Re­al­ity TV would be fool­ish not to reel this one in

The Aurora (Labrador City) - - NEWS -

There are re­al­ity shows on the boob tube these days deal­ing with ev­ery con­ceiv­able sub­ject mat­ter, pro­grams with in­tel­lec­tual ed­i­fi­ca­tion, pro­found en­light­en­ment, at their core.

Some give us a voyeur’s view of bach­e­lors and bach­e­lorettes us­ing tongue kiss­ing as the crit­i­cal cri­te­ria for choos­ing a mate.

Still oth­ers al­low us to lis­ten at­ten­tively as the “housewives” of Amer­ica de­liver clear-cut ev­i­dence of why so many mil­lions of them shocked the world and voted for Don­ald Trump: “like, ah, he’s, like, the sweet­est guy, and, like, his wife Mi­la­nia, she’s so gor­geous, and, like, her clothes are to die for.”

In case you’ve la­belled me as a tele­vi­sion view­ing snob, I will ad­mit there are sev­eral re­al­ity shows I reg­u­larly watch, a re­flec­tion, I guess, of my ad­dic­tion to the out­doors: the wilder­ness shows from Alaska and Canada’s own “Sur­vivor­man,” for ex­am­ple, pro­grams that go be­yond French kiss­ing and so­called cat fights.

There are also shows I en­joy in which cam­era­men fol­low wildlife of­fi­cers in pur­suit of poach­ers and the like, all sorts of law­break­ers on the water and in the woods.

And it is the pro­duc­ers of that par­tic­u­lar genre of re­al­ity shows who may have missed the boat, so to speak, in New­found­land last week (per­haps they had big­ger fish to fry).

Be­cause there was an in­ci­dent here that just begged for ex­ten­sive, be­hindthe-scenes cov­er­age, a way of show­ing the pub­lic how fish­eries of­fi­cers in this prov­ince — well, at least four by my count — used their ex­per­tise to bring down, ap­pre­hend and pros­e­cute a crim­i­nal who boldly and ar­ro­gantly vi­o­lated wildlife reg­u­la­tions; in the end, these valiant souls were suc­cess­ful enough to pub­licly em­bar­rass, with to­tal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, a law­breaker who was ob­vi­ously de­stroy­ing the out­doors for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of New­found­lan­ders. The ap­plause for the fish­eries of­fi­cers was thun­der­ous, and un­der­stand­ably so.

Of course, I’m re­fer­ring to the case of the 12-year-old smelt seller, Jay­den Har­ris of Gander Bay South, a crim­i­nal if ever there was one, a low­down char­ac­ter whose bla­tant vi­o­la­tion of the laws de­signed to pro­tect our wildlife just begged for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion and ar­rest. Just think about the video­taped drama, an ex­am­ple to their col­leagues world­wide of the type of the in­ves­tiga­tive tal­ents of sev­eral brave fish­eries of­fi­cers in New­found­land.

The pro­duc­ers could have had a cam- era track­ing the fish­eries of­fi­cer as he went un­der­cover, a dan­ger­ous move in these cir­cum­stances, to prove Jay­den the Jail­bird was sell­ing smelt at the out­ra­geous price of two dol­lars a dozen. Oh, the hor­ror.

A cam­era and tape recorder could have doc­u­mented the of­fi­cer as he made tele­phone con­tact with Jay­den’s fa­ther, the man who dared to let his son catch and sell smelt to save up money to build an ice hut so he could fur­ther rav­age the smelt pop­u­la­tion for a profit (he’ll be killing seals next); and a hid­den cam­era could have been rolling as the of­fi­cer showed up at the Har­ris house in Gander Bay South to con­sum­mate the deal from hell.

Cam­eras could have also shown how the of­fi­cer, aware of the dan­gers of the case, sought backup — three other of­fi­cers, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports — to ac­tu­ally make the ar­rest.

It was Har­ris Sr. who was ac­tu­ally ar­rested (Jay­den, the ring­leader, was at school), but a cam­era crew could have fol­lowed the fa­ther as he tried to ex­plain to his son how he had fla­grantly vi­o­lated the wildlife laws of New­found­land.

And there were pho­to­graphs that could have ac­com­pa­nied the pro­gram: a snapshot, for ex­am­ple, of Jay­den on the ice, a few smelt at his side; some view­ers could mis­tak­enly think they were see­ing an in­no­cent-look­ing young­ster, a smile from ear to ear, in his glee, in his el­e­ment, em­brac­ing the joys of the out­doors; but the re­al­ity show would have been able to por­tray Jay­den for what he re­ally was, a down-and-out crook, a frown of dis­dain for author­ity ob­vi­ous to any­one will­ing to look be­yond that fake smile. Where were the hand­cuffs? If the re­al­ity show pro­duc­ers had ac­tu­ally filmed the ac­tions of the of­fi­cers through­out the case, the prov­ince’s Depart­ment of Tourism could have bought the footage and used it to pro­mote through­out the world the laud­able work be­ing done by fish­eries of­fi­cers as they brought down Jay­den Har­ris and his dad, just part of their man­date to pro­tect the New­found­land wilder­ness.

Wildlife of­fi­cers from Alaska to Colorado would have given the ex­ploits of their New­found­land col­leagues the thumbs up.

“Did you see what those guys in Newfin­lind did? They nabbed a 12- year- old sell­ing smelt at two dol­lars a bag. Way to go, men!” And the im­pact would have been enor­mous on out­doors­men who might dare to break wildlife laws in the fu­ture. (The news sto­ries alone this week have been in­tim­i­dat­ing; I know I, for one, will never ever have 13 trout in my bas­ket again; I don’t want to be men­tioned in the same breath as Jay­den Har­ris).

And can you imag­ine the tele­vi­sion rat­ings?

Who would need bach­e­lors and bach­e­lorettes neck­ing in a sauna?

We would have had the case of — drum roll — “The Sly Smelt Seller of Gander Bay South.”

Bob Wake­ham has spent more than 40 years as a jour­nal­ist in New­found­land and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwake­ham@nl.rogers.com

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