Salmon harassers caught on camera

By: Korie Marshall

Jet boats may be fun, but some residents worry that their irresponsible use in the Fraser River – as well as people walking in Swift Creek – is causing stress to salmon populations, reducing the number that will return to spawn.

Resident and salmon watcher Gene Blackman photographed two jet boats cruising the Fraser River and disturbing the shallow waters where Chinook salmon are currently spawning. The Chinook travel from the ocean up the Fraser River to the streams they were born in order to reproduce.

“The morphology of a river is that you get shallows at the edges of deep pools,” Blackman says. “The salmon spawn, dig redds (nests) in the shallow swift water sections. They use the mechanics of the water to cover the eggs with sperm when released.”

Blackman says he is not against jet boating; in fact he has one himself. But he is concerned about the salmon, and thinks education is a big part of protecting their spawning grounds.

“I agree that perhaps the jet boaters don’t know about the salmon; but it is something the locals should be spreading the word about. Again education would be a very helpful tool,” he says.

He believes the Fraser River from the old Tete Jaune bridge up to the boundary of Mount Robson Park should be closed to motorized boats for the spawning season, from August to September, something he says was nearly completed back when a Conservation Officer was stationed in Valemount. Fisheries are under the purview of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, but Fisheries does work with provincial ministries.

Blackman says harassment of the salmon has been a long-standing issue, and Bruce Wilkinson agrees. Wilkinson started the Swift Creek Watershed Society to help protect the salmon and restore their habitat near Valemount, and he’s heard a number of stories this summer of people disturbing the fish.

One instance occurred Aug. 19th, when two people in waders and bright vests walked down Swift Creek directly opposite the viewing platform at George Hicks Park.

“While the bright safety vests looked official, the two guys were definitely not DFO or BC Parks,” said Brett Sparks who submitted photos to the Goat. “They shouldn’t have been in the creek.”

“These guys were definitely disturbing the salmon closest to the shore and doing so right in front of a bunch of tourists” said another witness.

Another witness says she saw them near the Main Street bridge, where at least three or four Chinook made it this year. Alison Kubbos says she asked the men what they were doing, and they said they were counting the salmon, but she says they were walking around where she knew there was a salmon redd.

“Those adult salmon are now gone. If they ever managed to lay any eggs, the nests are ruined,” she said.
The Goat forwarded the photos to Fisheries, and spokesperson Jonathan Thar said he has forwarded the information to the enforcement group who will conduct an investigation. Blackman says he’s reported the jet boat incident as well.
“It’s so discouraging” says Wilkinson of the repeated harassment of the fish. He says signage might help – new signs at George Hicks Park have recently gone up, and there are plans to install signs all along the creek. He says signage visible from the river is required as well, because some people may be starting their boat trip from as far away as McBride.

Wilkinson says the Valemount Visitor Information Centre got a call the week before asking of jet boating was OK up the Fraser and McLennan rivers. He says the callers at that time were made aware of the spawning season and it was recommended they call Fisheries.

Wilkinson says he’s got enough on his plate worrying about Swift Creek, but what happens in the Fraser and McLennan definitely affects Swift Creek, because that is where the fish are coming through. And though motorized boats may do more damage, non-motorized boats can also bother the salmon, which need every ounce of energy to achieve their biological directive of spawning before they die. Wilkinson says he has taught local rafting guides to respect the spawning habitat, and not to disturb them while still giving guests a great view of the fish, but he’s not sure companies from further afield have had the training or exposure.

Thar says any suspected violation of habitat or fishing should be recorded and reported – the date, time and location and the identity or description of the people involved. He says take note of any vessels or vehicles that were involved, and describe the actions you saw. Take photos or video when possible. It should be reported as soon as possible to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Observe, Record, Report (ORR) line at 1-800-465-4336. Thar says the ORR operator can provide directions on how best to submit photos or videos.

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