In the wake of a violent assault of an angler by men on a jet boat on the Vedder River on July 24, several interested parties are again speaking up about banning or at least restricting boat on Fraser River tributaries.
A video shared with The Progress showed a jet boat speeding past several people fishing on a narrow channel of the Vedder near the Great Blue Heron Nature Reserve. The boat came to an abrupt stop, landed on the gravel bar, and three men got off, one of them punching an angler several times in the head.
No one has yet been charged with the assault although The Progress has learned the names of all four men on board.
But it was the actions of the person driving the jet boat that garnered a large discussion on social media. Behind the scenes, fishing groups, First Nations and the City of Chilliwack want to see restrictions.
“Considering the multi-use aspect of the Vedder in the summer and fall, which includes all types of recreation not just fishing, there must be restrictions on any unsafe activity,” said Rod Clapton, president of the B.C. Federation of Drift Fishers.
“Power boats, including jet boats should be restricted to 10 kilometres per hour above the Highway 1 bridge.”
Sumas First Nation Chief Dalton Silver said the issue of jet boats in the Vedder and Sumas rivers has been an ongoing concern.
“I don’t fish as much as I used to, but I recall jet boats flying by when we were in a small aluminum boat checking a net and they just about swamp us and don’t even give us a second look,” he said.
“Some of these guys are just looking for a place to speed around. If there was some more responsible people behind the controls of these boats it might be a different story.”
Silver and Clapton and others are concerned primarily about the damage jet boats do to salmon habitat.
In 2020, the Sumas First Nation made an application under the Vessel Operation Restriction Regulations to Transport Canada. The application complained that jet boats and other watercraft were travelling through shallow reaches of the Sumas/Vedder/Chilliwack rivers while fish are migrating and during spawning season.
But Transport Canada rejected the application.
“I’m not sure people are aware of how much disruption these boats cause to the spawning beds,” Silver said, adding that for his First Nation to have to apply for boating restrictions and to have that rejected goes against the grain of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and promises from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about government to government relationships.
“It’s frustrating when people are talking reconciliation and and federal legislation and the UNDRIP, and different things in Supreme courts and we haven’t seen work on the ground, or in the water for that matter.
“We hear the words but we think it’s time, for the sake of the fish, that we need to take some action.”
City hall has been exploring solutions to reduce boat speeds on the Vedder River, according to director of operations Glen MacPherson, but the regulation of boat speeds on rivers and lakes is a federal government responsibility.
In 2021, the city conducted consultation including an online survey on the subject.
“At this time, city staff are continuing to investigate possible solutions to achieve improved boat safety along the Vedder River, including working with federal agencies regarding possible speed restrictions,” MacPherson said in an emailed statement.
Clapton said the issue is a priority for the is working Lower Fraser Collaborative Table (LFCT) whose membership includes the First Nations Lower Fraser Fisheries Alliance, major provincial angling associations and commercial Area E fishers.
“Currently discussions are taking place between angling organizations, DFO and the City of Chilliwack toward seeking some immediate solutions as this recent appalling incident highlighted a major safety concern and demonstrated the violence that can occur,” Clapton said.
He said the subject is on the agenda for a forum being held Sept. 26.
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