DFO officers patrol the Fraser River for poachers. Two boats from Maple Ridge have been seized since a total ban on fishing went into effect.

DFO officers patrol the Fraser River for poachers. Two boats from Maple Ridge have been seized since a total ban on fishing went into effect.

DFO blitz nabs Maple Ridge poachers

Ramped up enforcement safeguards fragile Fraser River sockeye

A Maple Ridge resident had his boat seized for illegally fishing salmon over the weekend. It was the second boat belonging to a local offender the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has taken during a late-summer enforcement blitz to protect spawning sockeye.

Since announcing a closure of all salmon fishing on the lower Fraser River on Aug. 16, the DFO has seized nine vessels, including the two local boats. It has also taken 60 nets out of the water – some which are drifting unmanned, and started investigations against 28 alleged poachers.

Herb Redekopp, the DFO’s regional chief of conservation and enforcement, contacted numerous media outlets to inform the public just how seriously his agency is taking its job of safeguarding the salmon. The number of returning salmon is lower than expected, and high water temperatures have DFO biologists pessimistic about the numbers that will successfully spawn. To ensure all possible sockeye get through, there is no fishing for any salmon species at this time.

“We’ve got to make sure every one of these fish gets up the river to spawn,” said Redekopp.

Fisheries officers are on the river all day and overnight, using state-of-the-art night vision equipment that allows them to operate as if in daylight. They have a fixed-wing aircraft capable of taking high resolution photos. It is normally used for Fisheries enforcement on Vancouver Island, but is now flying the Fraser. A helicopter is being used to spot fishing vessels and drifting gill nets, and then guide crews in boats and trucks to the site. And, maximum manpower is being brought to bear on the issue.

Some offenders have tried to flee, but with the DFO resources available, it has proven futile.

“I’m using every Fishery officer I have right now,” said Redekopp.

“Unfortunately, almost every day and night we’re running into individuals poaching.”

Most of the activity is from the mouth of the river to Spuzzum, just north of Hope. There are hot spots for poachers, but they are active throughout the region, including Maple Ridge.

Redekopp said compliance among sport fishermen has been “really high,” and so far no commercial fishing operators have been caught. Gill nets are the problem, and he said a drifting gill net can kill many fish in a short time.

Asked whether the offenders need the salmon for food, Redekopp said circumstances vary, but many of the people who are being apprehended have significant criminal records, and some have drug addictions.

Redekopp said tips about illegal fishing are coming for all fishermen – recreational, commercial and aboriginal.

“We’re being supported, to be quite honest, by everybody.”

Redekopp also warns the public that if they are caught buying illegally caught salmon, the purchasers will be charged along with the sellers.

“It’s a crime, there is no commercial fishery on the Fraser,” he said. “What we’re asking the public to do, is go to a legitimate seafood retailer..

“We will charge the fishermen, we will charge the seller and we will charge the buyer,” he said, noting the maximum penalty is a $100,000 fine.

Redekopp noted that there could soon be an opening for pink salmon. They’re not as widely preferred as sockeye, but they look good on a barbecue.

“We’re pretty lucky here – any of the species of salmon here are fine fish to eat.”

He is also asking the public to help with tips. If they see illegal salmon fishing or sales, they should call 1-800-465-4336.