Six sturgeon gain lucky release after illegal nets seized

Fisheries officers on patrol near Chilliwack recently freed several live white sturgeon from poaching nets.

A department of fisheries officer releases one of six white sturgeon found trapped in illegally placed fishing nets on the Fraser River.

Fisheries officers on patrol near Chilliwack recently freed several live white sturgeon from poaching nets.

They were in the boat on March 8 when they located and released six sturgeon from the illegal nets, said Doug Clift, DFO’s C&P field supervisor.

“Two unmarked and unattended gillnets were found near the confluence of the Sumas and the Fraser River,” Clift said.

The nets were both seized by officers, but it is not known who they belonged to, since there was not much evidence to go on, he said.

“As we pulled the first net up, we released four live sturgeon. And then the other net, it was the same thing. Two more were released.”

An official tweet went out March 11 from DFO Pacific with photos showing one of the six “lucky” sturgeon that had been “freed alive from poaching nets” by fishery officers patrolling near Chilliwack.

“I went to a sport fishing meeting and people as far away as Kamloops were talking about the tweet,” Clift remembered.

The enforcement officers monitor waterways to ensure compliance with the Fisheries Act, and the various fisheries, including First Nations, recreational and commercial.

Officers from Conservation and Protection, the enforcement arm of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, had been on regular patrol of the Fraser River at the time.

The released sturgeon, which were four to six feet long each, just swam away once they were freed, and didn’t have any net lashing marks on them.

“They didn’t look like they had been in the net that long,” he said.

The C&P officers usually seize a couple of nets every year, and sometimes there are fish trapped in them.

“But to get six sturgeon that way is not that common. They might be on the move at this time of year, especially when the ooligan and salmon start to appear.”

The concern is that illegally set nets can threaten the survival of  Fraser fish populations like white sturgeon, which are protected under the Species At Risk Act. The sturgeon fishery is strictly catch and release, with no retention.

Any nets or sightings can be called in to the Observe Record Report (ORR) line at 1-800-465-4336.