Illegal sockeye sales rampant on Fraser River

Thousands of sockeye salmon that have been cleaned and apparently prepared for sale are being dumped along the Fraser River. Illegal sales of salmon are rampant in B.C., especially on the Lower Mainland. 

“We are seeing evidence of illegal fish sales all over social media and Craigslist,” said B.C. Wildlife Federation Executive Director Jesse Zeman. 

Images of dead fish are also making the rounds on social media that appear to depict rotting Fraser River sockeye salmon, including hundreds of fish abandoned in the harbour at Steveston. 

“The BCWF is seeing reports of dumping involving thousands, possibly tens of thousands of fish, which is a symptom of illegal sales on a massive scale,” said Zeman. “The fish have spoiled suggesting that there are far more fish on the black market than there are buyers.” 

The number of spawning sockeye salmon returning to spawn in the Fraser River system is just a fraction of the number forecast earlier this year, just 5.5 million fish rather than the 9.8-million forecast. 

“Widespread poaching is harming us all as dwindling sockeye runs are being pillaged,” Zeman said. “Further, when an unknown number of fish are caught by poachers, we can’t sustainably manage the fishery.” 

Fish that are sold on the black market have not been inspected and may not be properly stored, which can lead to food-borne illness. 

“When you eat fish that haven’t been properly cooled and cared for there’s a very good chance you could get sick,” said Zeman. 

Buying fish on the black market could also land you in court.  

“If you are caught with fresh sockeye salmon and you don’t have a sales slip from a licensed purveyor, you will be charged as a poacher,” Zeman explained. 

Authorities are hopelessly overmatched to deal with the problem, especially after Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) shut down its special investigations unit nine years ago. 

“I was concerned when the special investigations unit was disbanded because it limited the department’s ability to prosecute major poaching operations. Some are very complex and organized and it requires more than just a casual operation to control,” said Randy Nelson, retired DFO Director of Conservation and Protection. “This is major crime and it requires investigation and sometimes undercover work to get to the bottom of it. Addressing poaching requires significant resources.” 

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