35 natives charged with breach of sockeye fishing ban

35 natives charged with breach of sockeye fishing ban

MARK HUME
The Globe and Mail
August 21, 2007

VANCOUVER — Federal fisheries patrols on the lower Fraser River over the weekend led to charges against 35 people accused of fishing during a closed period.

Herb Redekopp, chief of enforcement for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans on the lower Fraser, said the fishermen were all natives – mostly members of the Musqueam and Cheam bands – and they were using gillnets, trying to catch sockeye salmon during a shutdown that was imposed because stocks are at historic lows.

“Both Saturday and Sunday were very busy for us,” Mr. Redekopp said.

The federal government has closed the lower Fraser River to allow adequate numbers of sockeye to get upstream to spawning beds, and to allow a very limited catch by up-river bands for food and ceremonial purposes.

“We really stepped up enforcement this year. It’s a 40- or 50-year low [for sockeye numbers] … we need to get all of the fish through the lower Fraser and into the upper river,” Mr. Redekopp said.

Native leaders announced last week that they would be fishing on the lower river on the weekend despite the shutdown, because DFO had allowed a salmon sports fishery to continue until midnight Sunday.

Mr. Redekopp said the native anglers who were stopped on the river were co-operative and there were no confrontations.

“All the individuals we dealt with stopped fishing and left the river,” he said.

He said very few fish were caught, although he couldn’t provide numbers.

The 35 fishermen who were given notices to appear in court could face fines of up to $100,000 each if convicted.

Chief Ernest Campbell of the Musqueam band has said native fishermen will be arguing they had an aboriginal right to fish.

Mr. Redekopp said enforcement officers also kept a close eye on sports anglers over the weekend, who had to release any sockeye they caught, and no violations were noted.

“We did see some sockeye caught and released [by sports anglers] … we didn’t see anybody retaining sockeye, which was a pleasant surprise.”

Mr. Redekopp said that because sports fishermen this summer haven’t been able to keep any sockeye, the number of anglers on the water has dropped dramatically.

“Instead of 2,000 recreational anglers on the [gravel] bars … we now have between 100 and 300. The numbers are way down,” he said.

The sports fishing shutdown imposed Sunday applies to the Fraser River between Mission and Hope.

Recreational anglers above and below that area are still allowed to fish for species other than sockeye.

Mr. Redekopp said although enforcement officers have seen some sockeye being snagged by sports anglers, the numbers of fish taken were very low, and all were released.

“The vast majority of the first nation bands on the lower Fraser, and most anglers in the recreation fishing community, have been very conscientious about not catching sockeye,” Mr. Redekopp said. “The focus is on the few who are determined to fish on weak [sockeye] stocks, but we are really getting tremendous co-operation from the majority of fishermen.”

Over the weekend, federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn urged all user groups to work together to help conserve sockeye stocks.

Although 6.3 million sockeye were expected to return this year, only about 1.6 million did, raising concerns there might not be enough fish on the spawning beds this fall.

“Ultimately, the survival of sockeye will depend on all [fishing] groups,” Mr. Hearn said.

“Protest fisheries or illegal fishing, particularly this year, have the potential to do considerable harm to sockeye populations in B.C.,” he said, urging everyone to respect regulations.

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