Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is temporarily suspending vehicle access to Gill Bar, a popular recreation spot in the Fraser River near Chilliwack.
Officers locked a road access gate early Thursday morning, restricting vehicles from entering parts of provincial Crown land that lead to the gravel bar and side channels.
Gill Bar contains important fish habitat — including all five Pacific salmon species — and holds cultural significance for local First Nations, according to a statement from the DFO.
DFO fishery officer Mike Fraser said the impact of vehicles on the fish habitat has been a concern for many years, particularly following an increase in use during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Fish habitat is not the place to be operating off-road vehicles," he said.
Concerned citizens and environmental groups have expressed concern about the impact of motor vehicles on Gill Bar during the past few years, said Fraser.
He said sturgeons use the side channels of the bar to spawn and juvenile salmon use Gill Bar for refuge during high water.
"Our fish are in a tough place right now, they're struggling. We need to help them every way we can," said Fraser.
Fraser said first-time offences related to damaging fish habitat typically result in a fine "in the several-thousand-dollar range," but can reach to up to $100,000 to $200,000 for serious offences.
He said the temporary restriction will be in place until a long-term plan to manage the area is completed.
While there is no estimate on how long this will take, Fraser said the DFO is currently in discussion with governments and local First Nations.
"We're hopeful that when that plan comes into effect there will be certain access to particular areas and done in a way that's going to be protective and supporting of the habitat."
The public can still access the bar via foot or small boat.
Four Wheel Drive Association disappointed by closure
Kim Reeves, president of the Four Wheel Drive Association of B.C., said he is not surprised by the closure, but he finds it "unfortunate."
"There are few areas where there are large, open, basically unregulated space where you can teach kids to ride a motorbike or a quad or just enjoy nature," said Reeves.
Reeves said alternatively, the department could work with other community groups to educate the general public on the location of fish habitats.
He said the association was going to commit its own funds to signs and education campaigns before vehicle access was restricted.
"The negative consequences [of motor vehicles] really pale in comparison to flood mitigation, gravel harvesting, and other commercial and industrial activities," Reeves said.