Protecting Bowen Beaches and Offshore Waters From Illegal Poaching

The following article appeared in the Undercurrent, Bowen Island’s local newspaper in mid-November, 2015

Earlier this month a resident of Bowen Island observed the crew and guests of a recreational power boat, which regularly visits Deep Bay, retrieving many crab traps which had been scattered throughout the bay, unloading the catch into large coolers, dropping the traps again, going to the Cove for a period of time, then repeating the process. The resident noticed that they did not throw any crabs back into the water; regulations require undersized crabs and females are not to be taken. The resident confronted the boaters in the Cove while they were eating their catch and inspected the contents of the cooler. Allowable crabs must be males and the minimum size at the widest part of the shell must be no less than 165 millimetres. As expected, most of the crabs did not comply and he personally threw over 25 crabs back into the water.

Poaching Sign at the BeachThe resident contacted Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) Enforcement but, because the closest DFO Enforcement Officers are located in Squamish and Steveston, the response was felt to be inadequate. As President of the Bowen Island Fish & Wildlife Club (BIFWC), I was asked for advice regarding how to more effectively protect against illegal poaching on Bowen beaches and offshore waters. This incident gives me the opportunity to highlight what we in the Bowen community can do to be an important part of the solution.

First of all, a bit of history. Poaching has always been an issue on Bowen Island. In June, 2012 the BIFWC was made aware that poachers were taking oysters & clams and undersized crabs from Bowen beaches and the offshore. We purchased signs and Bowen Island Municipality (BIM) installed them on beaches where poaching had been observed in the past; Sandy & Pebbly Beaches in Mannion (Deep) Bay, Tunstall Bay, Bowen Bay, Grafton Bay, the Cape, and Mount Gardner Dock. Posters were also placed on the Capilano Queen notice board, the ferry dock, and other prominent locations. The signs ask anyone observing illegal poaching to immediately phone the Bowen Island RCMP (604) 947-0516, the Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) 1-800-465-4336, and the Bowen Island By-Law Officer (604) 947-4255. It is important to record important information, especially boat or vehicle license numbers, exact location, and other descriptive features (make, model, and colour of boat or vehicle).

Shortly after the signs were posted in June, 2012, several people from a van were observed digging up Sandy Beach and filling bags and coolers with clams and oysters. A nearby resident phoned our local RCMP, who responded immediately and apprehended the poachers in the act. The clams and oysters were returned to the beach. The RCMP gave the poachers, who were from the mainland, a stern warning that if they were caught again heavy fines would result, then they were directed back to the ferry. This was the perfect result and an article was published in the Undercurrent highlighting the incident and thanking the public and RCMP for their prompt action. To my knowledge, there have been no reports of oyster & clam poaching from Bowen beaches since the 2012 incident on Sandy Beach.

The RCMP are authorized to enforce the Fisheries Act and, in the case of the illegal taking of undersize crabs earlier this month, they have now contacted and reprimanded the boat owner. Our local officers will respond quickly when called and will coordinate their activities with DFO Enforcement in Squamish to ensure poachers are adequately dealt with. Anyone observing illegal poaching can make a difference if they immediately contact the RCMP at (604) 947-0516.

Please do not call the RCMP, BIM, or the Bowen Island Fish & Wildlife Club to make general enquiries about fisheries regulations. For details about DFO shellfish regulations, please go to their website page or phone DFO Enforcement at 1-800-465-4336. Howe Sound and Bowen Island are in Area 28.

It should also be pointed out that all of Howe Sound and the waters around Bowen Island are closed to fishing for rockfish and any boats observed jigging for rockfish should be reported to DFO.

Tim Pardee

Bowen Island Fish & Wildlife Club