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Illegal fishing persists, with lack of enforcement on Fraser, group claims

The Fraser River Sportfishing Alliance is expressing concern about enforcement efforts during a fishing shutdown in effect since mid-August.

"We are very concerned with the perceived lack of enforcement by [the Department of Fisheries and Oceans] DFO, particularly during the night," reads a statement provided to The News by an Alliance spokesperson.

Commercial and aboriginal fishing is currently banned along the river due to a dismal sockeye salmon return this year – the worst in 120 years.

Herb Redekopp, DFO's lower Fraser conservation and protection area chief, said his officers do the best they can with the resources they have, including night patrols.

The DFO has called in additional enforcement officers from other areas of the province to the region to assist its approximately 30 full-time employees who patrol the Fraser by boat, vehicle and helicopter.

The officers patrol on irregular schedules, often going out at night, using night-vision goggles, and at all times of day, according Redekopp.

"We don't want to be predictable in terms of where we put our patrols out because we can't be out 24 hours a day," he said. "So we select the times of day and night and the areas that we feel we can be most productive in and then we'll conduct."

"I've worked the river for over 30 years and I know for a fact that we're doing everything possible to protect those stocks," said Redekopp. "If you have another 20 or 30 officers, we can do that much better of a job, but we're doing the absolute best job for the number of people that we have employed on the Fraser right now."

Along the stretch of the Fraser River that flows through Mission, Abbotsford and Chilliwack, DFO officers have seized a total of 61 gill nets and 18 vessels since salmon began their migration up the river in June.

Sixteen individuals, all caught using gill nets, have been issued appearance notices and have subsequently been charged with offences under the fisheries act and are currently awaiting trial.

A reader-submitted photo appears to show an illegal net on the Fraser River.

"We have zero tolerance right now for any person we find fishing during the closure," said Redekopp.

Repeat offenders could face jail time or fines reaching over $10,000.

Redekopp said that his officers will immediately pull a net from the water, rather than wait for the persons responsible to come along.

"We don't want that net to keep fishing because if it kills one or two more fish even in the next minutes, we're losing the battle," he said. "Our goal really is to keep as many fish alive as possible."

When patrols do come across individuals actively fishing, they are arrested and have any and all equipment they are using seized, including boats, nets and vehicles, said Redekopp.

"We're quite confident that people will understand the dire state we're in."

The complete shutdown of Fraser River fishing is expected to continue for at least the next few weeks.

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