Conservation officers on Vancouver Island are investigating a suspected poaching case after the discovery of a black bear with its head and paws removed.

Tseshaht First Nation fisherman Bobby Rupert discovered the dismembered and decomposing carcass floating in the Somass River near Port Alberni.

"The colour of the carcass startled me at first. I thought it was a human remain," he told CTV News.

"I don't know if it's our people or somebody came and dumped it here."

The Conservation Service believes the bear was killed by poachers.

"This is outside the regulations and it is illegal activity," officer Steve Ackles said.

He said similar cases are uncommon, but not unheard of. In August, a 39-year-old B.C. man was arrested at Vancouver International Airport after border officials found three bear paws inside his luggage when he tried to board a flight to China.

Adrian Nelson of the anti-fur group Fur-bearer Defenders said that while it's difficult to get reliable information about the extent of the illegal trade in animal parts, there are signs it may be on the decline.

"It's an aging population that believes in these medicines, these natural things from animals -- we have shark-fin soups and bear parts and things like that. That being said, we are still seeing a trade in this here and overseas," he said.

Conservation officers say that while they pursue numerous poaching cases every year, securing charges can be a slow process. Although charges were recommended in connection to the bear paws found at YVR, Crown has yet to approve them.

With a report from CTV British Columbia's Penny Daflos