By Cornelia Naylor
Local conservation officers and poachers ramped up a dangerous cat-and-mouse game on the Fraser River last week after salmon fishing was banned to protect vulnerable sockeye stock.
Low returns and recordhigh water temperatures, which could kill as many as 70 per cent of the returning sockeye before they spawn, prompted officials to close the river to all salmon fishing Aug. 15 to prevent sockeye from being taken as a bycatch.
"We need every one of these fish to get back to the spawning grounds," DFO Lower Fraser area conversation protection chief Herb Redekopp told the Times.
But the absence of commercial and recreational sockeye openings this season along with very limited First Nations licences for food and ceremonial purposes have led to a "pent up" demand for the valuable fish, Redekopp said, and local poachers are risking both bodies and boats to get them, mostly fishing under the cover of night.
"We've had a number of boat chases where we've had vessels trying to escape capture," Redekopp said. "It's very dangerous because there's a lot of debris in the river and they hit the shore at a fairly high speed and run into the bush. Some of those individuals we've apprehended, and if we know who it is, we'll issue them a summons once we do up the charges. But we always seize the vessel, the nets, the fish, everything."
DFO doubled its enforcement efforts on the Fraser from Hell's Gate to Mission when the salmon closure was announced, bringing in extra officers, stepping up patrols and employing everything from helicopters to nightvision imaging to detect illegal activity. More....