DFO raises alarm about ‘rampant illegal fishing’ in protected B.C. waters

Click to play video: 'Pink salmon run leads to illegal fishing'
Pink salmon run leads to illegal fishing
Tens of millions of pink salmon are spawning along B.C.'s south coast. But the anglers' dream is also leading some into muddy waters about where the fish can be caught. Paul Johnson reports – Sep 1, 2023

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is raising the alarm about what it describes as “rampant illegal fishing” in certain British Columbia waters protected for finfish.

DFO officers have observed “significant” illegal harvesting in Rockfish Protected Areas in the Indian Arm region in recent weeks, the department said Thursday.

While some species of rockfish are designated “of special concern” under the federal Species at Risk Act, protected areas for them are meant to include all finfish, such as pink salmon.

“By engaging in this illegal activity, recreational anglers are not only breaking the law, but also seriously compromising the long-term sustainability of at-risk rockfish populations,” DFO said in the release.

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The Indian Arm, originally called səl̓ilw̓ət by the Tsleil-Waututh people, is a fjord that stretches north from the Burrard Inlet, passing Deep Cove, Belcarra and Mount Seymour Provincial Park.

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Its tidal waters near Vancouver and the suburbs are currently open for pink salmon fishing, as the species is considered “abundant” at this time of year, but fishing for the species is off-limits in the Rockfish Protected Areas.

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DFO said its officers have recently ticketed a number of fishers and seized illegal catches from those zones.

“It’s an amazing sight,” fishery officer Trevor Castagnar said of the pink salmon migration into səl̓ilw̓ət.

“There’s a lot of fish moving around and with that comes fishing activity (in the) closed area, which is why we’re here.”

Castagnar spoke with Global News on a boat in səl̓ilw̓ət, where he and another officer stopped two recreational fishing vessels whose operators were unaware they were fishing for salmon in a Rockfish Protected Area. They both received warnings.

While the officers prioritize education, all license holders are responsible for knowing the conditions of their license, Castagar said.

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The federal department describes rockfish as “slow to grow and reproduce,” with some species living up to 100 years. They don’t stray far from their habitats, which makes them particularly susceptible to fishing activities.

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There are 38 species of rockfish in B.C. waters, protected by 162 Rockfish Conservation Areas that cover 4,800 kilometres along the coast.

Fishery officer Nicole Thom encouraged local fishers to visit the DFO website to see where the three Indian Arm Rockfish Protected Areas are.

“You can do crabbing and prawn fishing in those areas, but nothing rod and reel,” she explained.

Thom said some anglers in the area have been caught with rockfish as bycatch. In those instances, penalties are up to the individual officer. Fines for fishing in the protected areas start at $575, but someone with multiple offences could receive a higher fine and have their boat seized.

Anyone who observes illegal fishing activity is asked to call DFO at 1-800-465-4336.

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