Eye in the sky: DFO patrols northern B.C. and Yukon for illegal fishing

Fisheries officers have wrapped up a 5-day aerial surveillance patrol over Yukon and northern B.C. They look for fisheries violations, and also keep their eye out for things that might impact habitat.

Surveillance program also looks for river and creek blockages in salmon spawning grounds

'We patrol for unlicensed and closed-time fisheries. We also patrol open fisheries — commercial, recreational and First Nations,' said Joe Humphries, a Department of Fisheries and Oceans officer. (Mike Rudyk)

Joe Humphries didn't make a catch this week — and that's a good thing.

Humphries spent five days this week patrolling the waters in Yukon and northern B.C., from the air. He's with Fisheries and Oceans Canada's (DFO) Pacific Region Aerial Surveillance and Enforcement Program (FASE), and has been since 2012.

He's now stationed in Whitehorse, and his job is to patrol the waterways and coastal shorelines.

"Our patrol area out of Whitehorse, for conservation and protection as fishery officers, is roughly from the Dease Lake [B.C.] area, up to Herschel Island and the Beaufort Sea," said Humphries.  

The DFO surveillance plane snaps a photo high above Teslin, Yukon. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada)

He was a part of a crew of five this week, flying in a Super King Air twin-engine DFO plane. It is full of specialty electronics and has a FLIR infrared camera attached to the bottom of the plane, allowing for aerial surveillance video and photography.

"We patrol for unlicensed and closed-time fisheries. We also patrol open fisheries — commercial, recreational, and First Nations. We monitor as well as surveil ongoing fisheries, as well as where fish migrate, as well as protection of their habitat," said Humphries.

The surveillance team looks for compliance issues such as illegal fishing in closed areas, especially for early salmon runs. 

The FLIR imagery camera can take pictures of the marine environment, from the air. (Mike Rudyk)

Heat imagery

Humphries says the FLIR imagery camera can capture visuals from several kilometres away, and has heat imagery.

"So the exhaust from vessels. We are even able to identify large heat sources from mammals, so for instance, up in this area, we were able to see some moose and caribou from their heat signature," he said.  

Humphries says the data and images collected on patrols are reviewed to determine if there have been any violations that might lead to charges.

A crew of five spent several days this week, flying in a Super King Air twin-engine DFO plane. (Mike Rudyk)

He says another important element of the patrols is looking for creek and river blockages.

"So we will look around highways and see if their are any plumes of water that could be causing issues to fish habitat." 

He says aerial surveillance is important for DFO because of the vast distances that can be covered, with limited resources. Humphries says on some days, flights can last four hours at a time and they can do several flights in a day.

The plane is typically stationed at the Canadian Forces Base in Comox, B.C. It flies 85 hours per month, 12 months per year, patrolling B.C.'s south, central and north coasts and the Haida Gwaii.


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