Fishermen Fined for Poaching Endangered Steelhead Trout

The winter season for steelhead in BC is from December to May and only in certain rivers. Photo credit: Superior County

A fisherman and his companion have been penalized with fines exceeding $7,000 in total after they were found guilty of catching an endangered steelhead trout from the Thompson River, a violation that came to light through his own social media post.

Cory James Betts admitted to fishing out of season and using illegal equipment in Kamloops provincial court. The incident occurred in November 2021, when Betts and a friend, Duane Michael Hepting, fished in an area of the Thompson River that was closed to angling. The appropriate season for fishing in that location extends only from June to September.

Using a barbed hook, which is not allowed, Betts captured the steelhead trout and took a photo with it. This photo was later posted on a Facebook group dedicated to steelhead trout, drawing immediate criticism and leading to an investigation by the BC Conservation Officer Service. The steelhead trout populations in the Thompson River and Chilcotin are critically low, with current estimates suggesting as few as 250 individuals remain, a stark contrast to the thousands recorded in the 1980s.

When conservation officers visited Betts at his home in Vernon after confirming the fish’s species through the photo, Betts acknowledged his error, stating he was unaware he had caught a steelhead trout. He had given the fish to Hepting, who then smoked and consumed it.

Hepting also faced charges and pleaded guilty to fishing during a closed season. Betts claimed they were confused about the regulations and unaware they had caught a steelhead trout until it was too late. Crown prosecutor Monica Fras imparted a warning to the public during the hearing to check the regulations carefully as summer approaches.

The steelhead is a type of rainbow trout that begins life in freshwater, migrates to the ocean as it matures, and then returns to freshwater to reproduce. Photo credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on Flickr

Acknowledging their misunderstanding of the rules, Betts expressed their regret in court, emphasizing that their intention was not to violate fishing laws. Following their confessions, Judge Roy Dickey imposed fines of $4,600 on Betts and $2,500 on Hepting and banned both from fishing in British Columbia for two years.

Judge Dickey remarked on the importance of understanding and following fishing regulations: “The result is, if you know or you don’t know, it’s still a dead fish — the consequences are the same. In this situation, where the steelhead are in such jeopardy at this time, the consequences are significant.”

In 2018, steelhead were rejected for an emergency Species At Risk Act listing. However, in 2020, The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) assessed interior Fraser steelhead as Endangered.

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