Lure of local angling catches up with U.S. man

An American caught pretending to be a B.C. resident while fishing for steelhead in the Skeena region has been barred from fishing in the province and heavily fined after pleading guilty to three counts of making false statements to obtain B.C. resident angling licences.

Charles Gentry, a U.S. citizen, was convicted Jan. 22 and ordered to pay $4,375 in fines. He is also prohibited from applying for any B.C. angling licences and angling anywhere in the province for two years.

The Northwest Conservation Service Office began investigating Gentry last year after being tipped off from the public that he was purporting to be a B.C. resident while fishing in the Skeena during the summer and fall months.

“We had a member of the public contact our dispatch. They said he was an American and they suspected he'd been fishing as a B.C. resident because of how often he was going out. So we looked into it and confirmed all of that stuff,” said north coast zone conservation officer Gareth Scrivner, noting that Gentry had been faking residency for nearly half a decade to avoid paying for expensive non-resident angling fees.

Non-residents need to pay between $20 and $40 a day to fish steelhead here, depending on the classification of the river, but residents only have to pay $15 for the whole year.

“He was just abusing the resource here, taking a resource like he's a local person, but for an American it's pretty much impossible to be a resident,” said Scrivner, noting that Gentry had been fishing almost daily in the months that he was in Terrace.

“He's a big time fisherman. Sometimes it’s hard to realize just how passionate some fishermen are. He pretty much moved to the area just for fishing. He had some money, kind of took an early retirement, moved to the area for part of the year just to fish, and then would go back to the states when the weather started getting pretty rough and so would stay down there and then come back up to go fishing again.”

Cases of non-residents claiming to be B.C. residents are a problem in this area because of the incredible fishing opportunities, said Scrivner.

“Local people have great access to the resource, and it's a world-class resource,” he said.

“I lived in the U.K. before moving here, in a similar field, and my associates and friends would just love to be able to fish here and it’s just not affordable or possible for a lot of those folks to come here and do that.”

And since the licencing system moved online a few years ago, it's even easier for people to claim residency.

“Instead of going to a tackle store and buying your licence you can buy it online on a government site,” he said. “So it makes it a little bit easier for guys to claim that they're a B.C. resident because they're not having to lie to folks face-to-face.”

To tackle this abuse, conservation officers are more diligent when checking licences out on the river.

“We don't want to treat everyone like they've done something wrong,” he said. “But if we have a suspicion that someone might not necessarily be from B.C. then we might ask a few more questions.”

Scrivner says he's seen about three cases himself this year of false residency claims, and dealt with those instances through tickets and education, and making the anglers purchase the proper licence.

But the difference between those instances and the case of Gentry was the sheer frequency of the violations.

“It wasn't suitable to charge him a smaller amount via a ticket – because it's a more serious offence we went to court with it,” he said, noting the statute of limitations only allowed them to go back three years. “He took a plea deal. It was a pretty slam dunk case so he would have had a much higher fine if he'd plead not-guilty and was then found guilty in the trial. It's quite a high amount for a plea deal,” said Scrivner.

And he notes that the whole investigation started from information from the public.

“It shows how important it is for folks to call stuff in,” he said. “He thought he could get away with it.”

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