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Jet boats devastating Pitt River salmon spawning grounds, says lodge operator

Click to play video: 'Growing pressure on DFO to stop jet boats from prime salmon spawning ground' Growing pressure on DFO to stop jet boats from prime salmon spawning ground
WATCH: Growing pressure on DFO to stop jet boats from prime salmon spawning ground – Sep 7, 2018

The owner of a world-renowned B.C. fishing lodge is raising concerns that aggressive boaters may be killing off vulnerable salmon stocks.

Dan Gerak is a former commercial fisherman who left the industry decades ago due to concerns about the future of the industry.

He now owns the Pitt River Lodge, located about an hour from Metro Vancouver in the Upper Pitt River.

READ MORE: Time to end open-water salmon farming, says Pacific Salmon Foundation

It’s a relatively pristine environment, and home to the spawning grounds of five species of Pacific salmon that work their way up from the Fraser River to mate.

“These are the ones that finally make it after four years, these are the miracle fish that went through all the odds and come back to the river,” Gerak said.

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But Gerak said the river is also becoming an increasingly popular playground for jet boat operators.

WATCH: Lodge owner accuses jet boats of destroying salmon habitiat

Click to play video: 'Pitt River lodge owner accuses boat owners of endangering spawning salmon' Pitt River lodge owner accuses boat owners of endangering spawning salmon
Pitt River lodge owner accuses boat owners of endangering spawning salmon – Sep 6, 2018

READ MORE: New study shows B.C. wild salmon are being infected by virus coming from fish farms

And he believes those high-powered pleasure craft are killing fish at two key moments in their life cycle — as freshly-laid eggs, and as young hatchlings several months later.

“If you pass a jet boat over the eggs, you’re killing all the eggs up to two feet under the boat,” he said.

“The whole river, the deepest spot is maybe two feet. And they’re going through three, four inches so they’re killing everything under the boat. Thousands and thousands of eggs are dying.

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“In the springtime, these jet boats, big ones, come up and they throw two-, three-foot waves and the guides have seen fry getting washed up on the beach.”

According to Gerak, the problem has been getting worse in recent years. That’s partly because of the river’s proximity to rapidly growing Metro Vancouver, but also because of technological changes to jet boats themselves.

He said five or so years ago, the boats couldn’t operate in such shallow water. But he said design improvements and Teflon bottoms mean the boats can skim through gravel — something he said boaters do for fun.

READ MORE: Province launches wild salmon council, advocacy groups don’t think it’s enough

Gerak is calling for jet boats to be banned from the river, but said the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is cool to the idea — and uses the boats itself.

The DFO provided Global News with a statement saying its staff are sensitive to the issue, but focus on voluntary compliance.

“DFO Fishery Officers promote education and stewardship to encourage the voluntary use of best practices so that the public and boaters are aware of potential impacts to the river and the resources we all share,” it said.

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