The operator of the Pitt River Lodge is among those call for a ban on jet boats on the river, in order to protect salmon.
Dan Gerak said studies done as early as the 1970s prove the high pressure water from jet boats kills the eggs left on gravel beds by spawning salmon.
“They are like giant pressure washers,” he said, explaining they can burst eggs open, or leave them damaged enough to kill the egg.
“It’s just like shaking a chicken’s egg before it hatches – you kill the chick.”
Gerak, who has been a fishing guide for 30 years, said the problem has been exacerbated by the increasing number of jet boats on the river. He sees as many as 40 some days. Most are carrying recreational boaters, who take advantage of new technology in boat building to creep through areas where there is just inches of water.
“They can go through really shallow water now – there’s no place they can’t go,” said Gerak.
The professional fisherman said the sockeye run on the upper Pitt used to be massive, but is now down to very few fish.
He said Fisheries and Oceans Canada knows of the problem, but are “passing the buck” on to Transport Canada, saying it is their jurisdiction to put any restrictions on boat engines. DFO should acknowledge this issue, the way their U.S. counterparts have, he asserted, adding it is one of the reasons Alaska enjoys stronger salmon runs than B.C., despite problems like climate change.
He said people would still be able to enjoy their jet boats on Pitt Lake, which is 16 miles long and deep enough that they do no harm.
Gerak said boats are also a safety concern, and the lack of policing on the river means many jet boaters are drinking and boating.
“I have pulled one jet boater body out and rescued dozens that could have died over the years,” he said. “They are constantly crashing in the shallow waters and flipping their boats in logging jams.”
The Lower Mainland Jet Boats social media page had a lot of reaction to Gerak’s complaint. Some said there have been strong salmon runs, that salmon spawn higher in the river, and asserting their rights to be there.
“I don’t support a full closure of boats but they definitely should be restricted by season or at least boat size to minimize damage to the eggs and fry,” wrote Matthew Bentley on the page. “People are going places they never have before with boats up there. It’s commonplace now to see boats past the second canyon in the last few years. Most of the people in jets are good operators but it’s the bad apples that are creating the problem.”