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Massive pink salmon run leading to 'rampant illegal fishing' in B.C.'s Lower Mainland, DFO says

Enforcement officers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada say they are seeing "rampant illegal fishing" in Indian Arm as anglers look to take advantage of a massive pink salmon run.

Arthur Demsky, detachment commander for the DFO's Fraser Valley West region, said fishery officers have handed out "dozens" of tickets over the last two weeks, despite only conducting two patrols in the area so far.

"The very top end of Indian Arm is absolutely inundated with pink salmon," Demsky said. "We normally get pink salmon up there every couple of years. Usually a moderate run, but this year, it's an extraordinary run."

Pink salmon jump out of the water in Indian Arm, which Arthur Demsky says has been "absolutely inundated" with the fish this year. (DFO)

While there are many areas in the Lower Mainland – including sections of Indian Arm – that are open to fishing, there are several Rockfish Conservation Areas (RCAs) that are closed to fishing for all fin fish, including pink salmon.

As their name implies, RCAs are intended to protect rockfish, as well as other bottom-feeding fish, such as ling cod.

Demsky said rockfish grow and mature slowly, and are currently seen in "critically low numbers" along the B.C. coast.

"We can't have people going in there and fishing for them," he said. "They readily attack any type of a lure, a lure that could be used for fishing for pink salmon, rockfish will go after those as well."

Rockfish are also susceptible to "barotrauma," an adverse effect of the change in pressure between the surface and the ocean floor where they live. Barotrauma can kill the animals outright or leave them susceptible to predators, Demsky said.

"We don't want people fishing on these things because they will kill them and we can't afford to lose any more rockfish," he said.

In recent weeks, anglers have been ticketed for fishing in an RCA, fishing without a licence and fishing with illegal gear, each of which comes with a $575 fine.

Officers have also handed out tickets to fishers found to be over their catch limits, which for pink salmon are four per person. Fines for that offence are $200 plus $50 for each fish over the limit.

"We've handed out dozens of tickets and warnings, which is not normal for up there," Demsky said. "The funny thing is, most people – we believe – know it's closed, because every time we go in and we see a number of boats fishing in there, the first boat we deal with, everyone else takes off. That's an indication that they know."

Fisheries officers conduct a patrol in Indian Arm. (DFO)

The DFO is reminding people not to fish in RCAs, maps of which can be found on its website

The agency is also urging the public to report any suspicious fishing activity they see by calling the "observe, record and report" line at 1-800-465-4336.

"We only have so many officers," Demsky said. "We can't be everywhere at once all the time, so we depend on the public to provide us with information." Top Stories

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