The owner of a Pitt Meadows fishing lodge is angry after a group of federal fishery officers beached their jet boat along the Pitt River and he is accusing them of possibly destroying salmon spawning grounds in the process.
Daniel Gerak, owner and operator of the Pitt River Lodge, located at the north end of Pitt Lake, in the upper Pitt River, said the three officers went up a really shallow spot along the river and almost ran into a log jam. They ended up beaching their boat on a little island about 11 kilometres up the river.
He is accusing the fisheries officers of driving their jet boat over areas where salmon are currently spawning.
“It’s unbelievable. These guys, they’re supposed to be protecting the salmon and they’re killing them,” he said.
“They blasted right over,” said the lodge owner who has been in business for a little more than 30 years – initially renting cabins in the area in 1990 before building the lodge in 2000.
The incident took place Wednesday, Aug. 18, at about noon. And, Gerak said, only for the help of one of his fishing guides – who left their clients and sailed to the site in a raft– they would have had to call the Coast Guard for help. If they had hit the log jam, added Gerak, their boat could have flipped. He said they are lucky to be alive.
Gerak wants federal fishery officers to stop using jet boats in the waters. And, he said, it is not only him, the Katzie First Nation is also against the use of the boats.
A jet boat has a pump that sucks water in and then blows it out, the same as a pressure washer, explained Gerak.
“If you were to stick a four-horse power pressure washer in your fish tank you’ld kill all the fish. So picture, 5-600 horsepower pressure washer going over four or five inches of water with eggs, salmon. You’re killing everything,” he said.
The Upper Pitt is extremely remote and only accessible by helicopter or jet boat, explained Mike Allison, a spokesperson for Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
There are no access roads, he said, and access is by gained by running across the entire length of Pitt Lake – a 26-kilometre journey – by boat from Grant Narrows to the mouth of the Upper Pitt River, which is 40 km long.
Allison explained that to patrol and navigate the braided, narrow channels of the upper Pitt River, DFO fishery officers must use jet boats, which do not have a propeller and are designed to traverse shallower waters.
“Jet boats are the only option for officers to access the miles of river in the Upper Pitt,” he said, adding that fishery officers are up there to conduct and ensure compliance with the Fisheries Act and other regulations, to inspect anglers and to look for and ascertain salmon presence.
Allison maintained that during the regular course of enforcement activities, officers will routinely beach their boat to closely investigate situations, to check for upstream water hazards, to check fishing activity, and to look for fish in-river and in adjoining tributaries.
“Fishery officers have the appropriate training and equipment to do this,” he affirmed.
Fisheries officers routinely patrol the Upper Pitt River, by both boat and helicopter. However, Allison said, helicopter patrols do not allow physical access to all parts of the river, as the helicopter can only land where safe to do so, limiting the number of inspections on fishers they can do.
“During the course of the boat patrol, the officers did not encounter any salmon or spawning grounds,” he said of the Aug. 18 incident.
Rick Bailey, elected member of council for the Katzie First Nation, could not comment on this particular incident because he was not there, but, he said fishery jet boats are not the problem.
“There’s these new-fangled little micro boats that are high-powered, smaller,” and can operate in only six centimetres of water, said Bailey, of the recreational vessels.
“They are going to places where the fishermen who have been going up there for years and years, have never been,” he explained.
Bailey would like to have some vessel traffic controls put on the upper Pitt River –whether they be seasonal closures or a boundary that boaters cannot go beyond.
The Katzie First Nation are hoping to put in a VORR application to Transport Canada by the September deadline to be able to do just that. They are the leads on the application, but they are also consulting with the DFO, the RCMP, and other recreational users, added Bailey.
“Salmon are in a crisis situation right now throughout the whole Fraser watershed,” said Bailey.
“We’re doing everything we can to enhance the habitat up there for salmon.”
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