Illegal fishing guide operations along the Fraser River are causing at least one Tri-Cities business to lose thousands of dollars annually, and according to recent reports, the issue is growing throughout the province.
Riverside Fly and Tackle owner Garry Elgear told The NOW a number of U.S. citizens in particular are relocating to parts of the Fraser during the summer months and posing as certified fishing guides without the necessary permits or licences.
"We see Americans come in with their huge trailers and they'll set up shop for a few months, especially when we have a sockeye opening," he said.
"They get guests to come in and stay at their trailer, they take them out fishing everyday and they send them back home with all their fish."
The move costs Elgear and his staff untold amounts of money per year, due to the fact that licensed guides must pay thousands of dollars annually for a licence, as well as insurance and other capital costs. On top of having to incur those costs, the illegal operations affect Elgear's business by undercutting his prices.
"Of course, we do see a big hurt on," Elgear said. "Before the recession, about half of my business was American dollars. I think I may have had two guided trips this year [for American clientele].
Elgear noted part of the problem in pursuing illegal guides is the fact that it's difficult to catch them in the act and prove they are posing as guides.
"They look like they've set up shop to go camping," Elgear said. "You'll see a series of big trailers set up on the shore and they stay there for months. We don't see them spending their money here. They're not buying anything, from fishing gear right down to milk and cheese."
Pitt River Lodge co-owner Dan Gerak did acknowledge the presence of more American boats on the Pitt River in recent years, but said he hasn't seen an illegal guide operation on the Pitt in close to two decades.
"I've seen more American boats on the river, but what they're doing, I have no idea. Whether or not they're just fishing with friends, you don't know," Gerak said.
A story published in the Vancouver Sun Tuesday noted the same types of issues being reported frequently in northern and central portions of the province.
In one instance, close to 20 instances of illegal guide operations were reported around the Terrace area alone.
According to Chris Doyle, the B.C. Conservation Service's south coast inspector, illegal guide operations have been an ongoing issue for more than a decade, although he wouldn't comment on any active investigations related to the Tri-Cities.
"Certainly we have had investigations about illegal guiding in [the Tri-Cities] and those investigations have led to enforcement actions like violation tickets, as well as court prosecutions and vessels being seized in the past," he said.
Doyle would not comment on specific investigation techniques used to catch illegal guides, but did note that enforcement begins with a $575 fine.
"More serious offences can be dealt with through court prosecution as well as the fact that any items, like boats, used during the illegal activity can be seized and potentially forfeited as well," he said.
Residents are encouraged to report any potential illegal guide operations to the B.C. Conservation Service by calling 18779527277.