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Joy-riding jet boaters destroying Pitt River salmon: Fishermen

 Glenda Luymes, Postmedia News

Lodge owner and fishing guide Dan Gerak in Pinecone Burke park. (Photos from Pitt River Lodge)

Lodge owner and fishing guide Dan Gerak in Pinecone Burke park. (Photos from Pitt River Lodge)

Joy-riding jet boaters are killing salmon and destroying thousands of eggs on the upper Pitt River, says the owner of a fishing lodge on the remote waterway near Maple Ridge.


Dan Gerak said the number of jet boaters on the upper river, which feeds into the north side of Pitt Lake from its source in Garibaldi Provincial Park, has increased as jet boats have become "the latest toy" for those with money to burn.

On some weekends, Gerak said he has seen at least 20 boats speeding over the shallow water near Pitt River Lodge, which is seven kilometres upriver from the lake.

"These aren't fishing boats," he said. "These guys pull up (to the boat launch) with big, fancy trucks and their jet boats or jet skis, and they ride up and down the river over the spawning beds. They think it's fun to race over the gravel bars or try to jump the bars."

Gerak said he wants the area closed to jet boats, explaining "they're doing more damage to the river than anything I've seen before."

In spring, Gerak said he's seen fry washed ashore by jet-boat waves, littering the river's edge with young fish.

In the summer and fall, when adult fish are returning to the river to lay eggs in the gravel, the jet boats disturb the river bottom, sucking up water and eggs before spewing them out in a trail behind them.

Gerak said technological advances now allow jet boats to cruise in water that's only several inches deep, and some have Teflon-coated hulls, which makes drivers less concerned about scraping the bottom.

The fishing lodge owner recognized he might be accused of trying to protect his wilderness retreat from weekend warriors, but he said the damage to the salmon should concern everyone.

"It's just common sense. If you want fish, you have to protect these places. What they're doing is like driving a car through a chicken coop."

In an e-mail, fishing guide Jordan Celebre said he daily sees "jet boats run over spawning sockeye and chinook salmon, along with their redds (nests)."

Jet boats work by pulling in water and shooting it out behind them, said Don Prittie, president of the Boating B.C. Association, which represents the recreational boating industry.

"They're able to be used in a shallow-water application," he said, estimating a small, light jet boat could easily manoeuvre in water only 14 to 16 inches (35–40 cm) deep.

Jet boats are used by both anglers and recreational boaters — "it's probably evenly split," said Prittie — and have grown in popularity over the last decade.

The industry spokesman said he wasn't familiar with any studies on the affect of jet boats on salmon, but he could see how one "operating in a really shallow area" could suck up eggs with water.

The provincial Ministry of Environment said salmon fall under the jurisdiction of the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which replied to Postmedia's queries with a statement saying it has received no recent reports of harm to salmon or fish habitat by jet boats on the Pitt River.

In 2013, DFO scientists, in conjunction with UBC Okanagan, studied the erosion caused by recreational watercraft, including jet boats, on the Shuswap River in the Interior. The report noted that "many biologists and ecologists are concerned with the impact of boat wakes as they may have an enormous effect on the mortality of salmon eggs."

But the DFO statement said the federal department has no power to closerivers to boats, although legislation prohibits anyone from "carrying out an activity that results in serious harm to fish."

Transport Canada is responsible for restricting motor, speed or engine power on waterways, but governments, not individual citizens or groups, must apply for them to do so.

In a statement, the federal department said that if "community members wanted to ban or restrict the use of jet boats on a certain river or tributary, stakeholders working together can often find more timely, effective and affordable solutions.

"Community members can talk to their local government about establishing vessel restrictions in their area."