Conservation officers are trying to protect steelhead populations in rivers including the Campbell. Photo from BC Conservation Office/Twitter

Conservation officers ramping up checks on anglers in Campbell River

Enforcement campaign comes as pink salmon season approaches summer peak

Provincial conservation officers are ramping up compliance checks on anglers as the pink salmon season reaches its peak. It’s partly to protect the steelhead.

“In Campbell River, there’s a small run of summer-run steelhead that still exists,” said James Hilgemann, a conservation officer based in Black Creek.

Members of the Black Creek team were patrolling the Campbell River this past weekend. The enforcement campaign comes as recreational fishers flock to the region.

The officers frequently encounter newbies, he said, who may not be familliar with all the regulations.

“You do your compliance check and you just know right away this guy’s never fished before,” he said. “He’s still got the price tag on the rod.”

He said that conservation officers use their patrols as a chance to educate the general public about best practices. Catch-and-release fishing often kills fish when anglers keep them out of water for too long.

“We stress that the fish stay in the water,” he said. “If they want to get a picture, have the camera ready before you take the fish out.”

He said sporadic checks happen throughout the year, with this effort focussing on the rivers. RCMP and officials from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans are also assisting, he said.

Anglers need a valid freshwater license, and anyone wishing to keep their catch needs to purchase stamps giving them that right.

Fishers are also required to use single barbless hooks, which are meant to minimize physical harm to fish in catch-and-release situations, which otherwise bleed to death.

“They wriggle, and often times they start bleeding,” Hilgemann said. “And if they bleed, they typically would die.”

People keeping their salmon must respect a daily limit of four fish, he said.

There’s also a two-day possession limit: if you catch the maximum number two days in row, you have to bring them home.

In other words, if you’re on a camping trip and stockpile more than eight fish in your cooler, you could be on the hook for a fine. That rule is enforced in random roadside checks, he said.

The fines for violations are substantial. Angling without a license results in a $115 fine.

Using prohibited gear like a barbed hook or bait comes with a $150 fine, and since that’s under the Fisheries Act, it comes with a bench warrant. That means an offender’s name could get flagged at border crossings, for example.

“You might be trying to go to Hawaii for your spring break vacation and you won’t get through the airport because you’ll be flagged as a bench warrant,” he said.

And retaining a fish without paying for the stamp leads to $150 fine.

Conservation officers also have the right to seize property connected to violations, he said, whether it’s your fishing rod or cellphones used for documenting unlawful catches.

As for the current enforcement campaign, it’s happening near the height of the season for pink salmon, a species regarded as fairly easy to catch. Within a couple of weeks, the Campbell will be lined with upwards of a hundred anglers, he said.

“That river will just be bumper to bumper,” he said. “It’s just a circus.”

Hilgemann noted that anyone who sees violations taking place should contact conservation officers through the Report All Poachers and Polluters hotline.

He also stressed the importance of keeping the river clean, as the summer fishing season tends to leave behind a lot of litter.

“Pack it in, pack it out,” said Hilgemann. “Keep a clean riverbank.”

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter