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WDFW Enforcement is divided into two patrol sections, Marine and Land, although responsibilities often overlap and the two sections commonly assist each other. The following are real life events that provide a snapshot of fish and wildlife enforcement activity in Washington State. These examples show the diversity of issues that Fish and Wildlife Police Officers ("Game Wardens") encounter while protecting your natural resources, but are by no means all encompassing of our many accomplishments. All violations are considered alleged unless a conviction has been secured.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Weekly Highlights

Undersized Commercial Crab
While inspecting two fishing vessels delivering a shipment of 40,000 pounds of Dungeness crab from Southern Oregon, Officer Jacobson discovered many crabs under the minimum size of 6.75 inches. Sgt. Chadwick was called and responded to assist. After sorting through 7,000 pounds of crab, it was determined that 7% were undersized.  The crab was seized and the receiving plant will be cited.  The case is also being forwarded to Oregon for charges against the skippers of the offending vessels.

Note: All Puget Sound commercial crab pots must have a buoy tag attached to the buoy. These tags have the license number printed on them and are listed 1-100. Currently commercial crab fishermen in north Puget Sound are only allowed to fish 50 pots per license, and must retain the extra 50 unused tags aboard their vessel.
 
Bad Luck in Bellingham Bay
While on boat patrol in the Bellingham Bay area, Officers Beauchene, Gaston, and Rosenberger observed several commercial crab buoys that lacked buoy tags. The officers proceeded to pull approximately ten pots belonging to the same commercial fisherman, and found that over half did not have buoy tags, biodegradable escape mechanisms, or pot tags (all required under state law).

Over the next few weeks, Officers identified the commercial fisherman who was operating the gear, and performed surveillance of his movements, as they suspected he was fishing more than the allowed 50 pots. One day, as Officers Rosenberger and Gaston followed the fisherman at a distance, they counted a total of 60 commercial crab pots being fished. A few days later, Sgt. Mullins and Officers Gaston and Rosenberger pulled all of the fisherman's actively fishing commercial crab gear and discovered 63 actively fishing pots -- a 26% overage of commercial gear! Of the 63 pots recovered, 15 were not marked with buoy tags, and 36 did not have pot tags. Upon returning to Bellingham, Officers seized the fisherman’s vessel and the 63 pots for forfeiture proceedings.   


Officer Gaston, Sgt. Mullins, and Offer Rosenberger with seized crab pots and vessel

Year Round Poaching Patrols 
Everyone knows our Officers patrol during open season. What you may not know is the amount of time and effort spent patrolling during closed season to prevent the illegal take of big game (deer, elk, moose and bear)  and protected wildlife (birds of prey). Sportsmen and women are our best defense against poaching, and we rely on their vigilance all year to protect the hunting heritage and wildlife populations. Here’s a snapshot of just two cases investigated last week.

Cowlitz County:
Officers served a search warrant at the home of a suspect involved in poaching a cow elk in December. Thankfully, a sportsman engaged in legal coyote hunting saw some suspicious activity and reported it.

Officer Anderson was able to search law enforcement databases and track the involved vehicle to a car lot that had purchased it from the suspect four days after the poaching. Lo and behold, Officers found elk hair in the bed! After thorough interviews and the eventual service of a search warrant, the suspect confessed. 

Late in the search warrant service, Officers Martin and Schroeder arrived on scene and provided  new information about a  bull elk the suspect had also shot with a rifle during the early archery season (only archery equipment could be used). The suspect confessed to illegally taking this elk as well. In both cases, the animals were largely wasted. An accomplice was also identified and will be facing charges for his role.
Grays Harbor County:
After contacting the media and soliciting public assistance on the WDFW Police Facebook page, Officer Do received several tips that led to a possible suspect in a North River elk poaching investigation. After gathering sufficient evidence, Officer Do found the suspect at a house in Hoquiam. He confronted the suspect, who subsequently confessed to killing the elk.

But there’s a twist....

The suspect who confessed was the same person who originally called the poaching in!  He shot the animal and his family became nervous because they thought it had an electronic tracking device embedded somewhere in the body. So they decided to call law enforcement and report that they heard a shot and found the animal. 

While Officer Do was deep in the elk poaching investigation, he contacted a subject with a lengthy criminal history, including the conviction of a Class B felony. Officer Do recalled seeing a rifle inside the subject’s travel trailer during the contact, so he obtained a search warrant.  Sgt. Chadwick, Officer Hopkins, Officer Jacobson, and Officer Do served the search warrant and located the rifle. The subject was booked into Pacific County Jail for felon in unlawful possession of a firearm. 

Clam Poaching Plan Gone Awry
Clam chowder was in the making on coastal beaches in January: Razor clams! Many happy diggers went home with well-earned limits. However, those with ill-gotten gains had them taken away.

I can hear my mother's voice in my head, clear as a bell: “Hey, save some for the other kids!"

But not everyone listens to their mother. Officer Hopkins defeated one such group's trickery after a concerned citizen tipped him off about their greedy intentions. The plan was simple – make several trips to the beach and harvest a limit each time. Add a change of clothes and vehicle and voila! You get away with it... right?

Not so fast!

Sgt. Holden,  Capt. Schlenker and Sgt. Chadwick located the men digging their first limits near Oysterville.  Sgt. Holden and Officer Hopkins staked out the house, waiting for them to return.  After digging their first limit, the men drove to the house and dropped off their clams.  They then returned to the beach after changing vehicles and clothes and dug a second limit.  Sgt. Chadwick and Capt. Schlenker contacted the men as they concluded their second limit.  In the meantime, Officer Chamberlin went to their house to ensure that evidence did not disappear. The men first denied digging any other clams, but then later admitted to digging the earlier limit.

The men were cited for Fail to Submit Catch for Inspection, and First Degree Over Limit.  Over 100 clams were seized from them.  One of the men also had unlawfully purchased both Oregon and Washington resident licenses. 

Brain Freeze
Boating safety is one of our public safety missions. Known for a number of vessel related rescues each year, we prefer to prevent tragedies from happening when we can. While disaster can strike at any time, there are some who seem to invite it...
Officers Myers and Vance were patrolling the upper Snake River by boat when they saw one brave fellow water skiing in the 38 degree water.  The winter water skier didn’t bother to have an observer onboard, nor did the boat operator display a skier down flag when the skier fell into the frigid water. The same subjects in this same ski boat were cited for the exact same violations in the summer. 

Apparently they’re hardcore skiers.... but slow learners. 

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