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Just before he was shot in the face with a pellet gun on Sunday afternoon, Chief Willie Charlie was urging fellow native fishermen to note identifying boat numbers in the event of altercations with sports fishers on the Fraser River.

"If anything happens, you've got to make sure that you get the number on that boat," said Mr. Charlie, 47, chief of the Chehalis Indian Band. Mr. Charlie's nephew's fishing boat had been jostled by sports fishers a week or so before.

"And not even an hour later, I was in this altercation, and did I get a number? No."

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Instead, Mr. Charlie was wielding a paddle like a club and shouting in an altercation that unfolded Sunday afternoon during a 12-hour, officially sanctioned aboriginal drift-net fishery for chinook salmon.

The incident, which is under investigation by the RCMP, has heightened calls for tighter fishing restrictions on the Fraser, where drastically lower-than-expected numbers of returning sockeye salmon have already resulted in curtailments for aboriginal, sport and commercial fisheries.

Fishing is still under way for other kinds of fish, including chinook salmon.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada should close the entire Lower Fraser River to all sports fishing in the wake of the incident, Sto:lo Tribal Council fisheries adviser Ernie Crey said Monday.

The Fraser Valley Angling Guides Association, which represents sport-fishing interests for the region, has previously said such a closing would be an overreaction that would jeopardize jobs and businesses in the sport-fishing sector.

The clash occurred after Mr. Charlie and his partner had spent three hours in a floating queue, waiting for their turn to cast their wide-mesh net near a sandy bar at the river bottom where fish are known to gather.

As Mr. Charlie moved his boat into position, he says, the operator of another nearby boat refused to get out of the way.

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When Mr. Charlie set his net, it got tangled up with the gear of the other boat, setting the stage for an angry confrontation that drew at least one other boat to the scene. Mr. Charlie was struck in the face by a projectile, believed to have come from a pellet gun.

At some point, the sports boat was untangled from the gear, and its owners raced away. RCMP are looking for a 19-foot, cream-coloured fibreglass boat and its two occupants.

There have been occasional clashes between native and sport-fishing interests on the Fraser River over the past decade, especially around gravel bars that are popular fishing spots for both groups.

Typically, name calling is as far as it goes.

"There's a lot of mature people, and there's a lot of dumb asses - anywhere you go on the planet, that's what you find," Brian McKinlay, owner-operator of Silversides Fishing Adventures, said Monday.

"I respect their traditional rights to harvest fish," said Mr. McKinlay, who's been running guided tours on the Fraser River since 1996. "We both need salmon. And when the salmon numbers get low, like they are this year, it's a waste of energy to point fingers at natives and blaming them for reducing fish stocks."

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In a recent update, the Pacific Salmon Commission said overfishing has not been a factor in low returns of Fraser sockeye stocks so far this year.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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