Imagine trying to reel in a massive Fraser River sturgeon when someone comes up and steals it out from under you.
That’s what happened to an angler who was fishing with his family recently near Chilliwack when he hooked a massive white sturgeon that was at least six feet long.
Two men came by and asked if he needed any assistance bringing it to shore.
Instead of helping they roped the giant fish, wrapped it in a tarp, threw it into the back of a white pickup and sped off.
Conservation Officer Don Stahl said he has never seen anything like it in more than 21 years of service as a CO.
“This was in broad daylight and was basically theft,” Stahl said, adding that usually sturgeon poachers work at night.
It happened on the Fraser River, near the end of Cannor Road in Chilliwack, at Bowman’s Point on the afternoon of Aug. 31, according to the incident file, said acting Sgt. Stahl.
The B.C. Conservation Officers Service ended up fielding three or four calls about the incident, along with video evidence from witnesses.
That led to the identification of the suspects, but no fish was recovered. No charges have yet been laid either.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Stahl said.
The unlawful possession of sturgeon could mean potential fines of up to $10,000, and illegal sales of the endangered fish could mean a three-month jail term.
“It happens every year on the Lower Fraser, usually between spring and late fall,” he said.
The COS conducts about three to six investigations per year into sturgeon poaching.
“We’re not talking about checking anglers here, but looking for people who are killing the sturgeon to sell the meat and the caviar,” Stahl said
The video and the calls in this case helped.
“The guy who had the fish stolen called it in to police, and they called us,” Stahl said.
Some video shot by a local fishing guide shows a pickup truck behind the anglers, and the whole thing played out before witnesses on the water.
“It was taken from far away but we got pretty good idea of what the truck looked like,” said Stahl. He and his colleague later traced the possible routes of the suspects.
Everyone at local guiding outfit, Great River Fishing Adventures was upset and angered by the video and theft, said owner Dean Werk.
“It’s a very sad day for the sturgeon when someone thinks it’s OK in broad daylight to take a sturgeon that’s probably 70-years old,” said Werk.
White sturgeon are an endangered species on the Fraser River and fishing them is strictly catch-and-release only, he said.
The carefully managed catch-and-release fishery is a huge economic driver for Chilliwack and the region, and that can’t be understated.
“We have to look after this resource,” Werk said.