Sturgeon fishing on the Fraser River in 2014.

Sturgeon poaching prompts night fishing ban

Conservation officers plan patrols on Fraser River to protect ancient fish that grows to immense sizes

Night fishing is being banned on the lower Fraser River and some tributaries in an attempt to stop the continued poaching of white sturgeon.

The recreational angling regulation change takes effect April 1 and applies on non-tidal sections of the Fraser, Pitt and Harrison rivers.

Conservation officers will be out in force on the water and a ban on legal fishing at night should make it easier to detect poachers who typically take wild sturgeon after dark, Sgt. Todd Hunter said.

“That’s when the poaching is going on and people are taking them,” Hunter said. “So we’re going to be actively patrolling.”

Sturgeon are a catch-and-release-only fish but a lucrative black market exists for their eggs for caviar.

Hunter doubts the night fishing closure will be too much of an inconvenience to other anglers, such as salmon fishermen.

He said the regulation, which will be in effect for two years, is essential.

“This is a threatened species that has been around since the dinosaurs,” Hunter said of the river’s monstrous armoured bottom feeders.

“These things are very old. They’ll get up to 100 years old or more. So they’re very important to British Columbians and we’re going to do as much as we can on the enforcement side.”

White sturgeon are the largest freshwater fish in North America, with the largest believed to reach sizes of 1,800 pounds and 20 feet in length.

The biggest one caught and released on record was a 12-foot 1,100-pound sturgeon reeled in by English tourist Michael Snell in 2002 near Chilliwack.

Hunter urged anglers who legally catch and release sturgeon to do so with the utmost caution when posing with them for photos.

“If you do it wrong you can actually kill that fish,” he said,  adding the loss of any of the large old sturgeon that are reproducing could significantly harm the already low population in the future.

An immense white sturgeon reeled in near Chilliwack last year. Contributed photo.