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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.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Halibut Opener Highlights

As expected, angler participation was high during the recent halibut season opener in  Marine Areas 3 and 4, and this delicious table fare was pursued with a vengeance!

There were well over 100 boats out of La Push and 250+ boats out of Neah Bay each day of the three-day, ten Officer emphasis patrol. While compliance was comparatively good, Officers issued plenty of citations to deserving individuals for a variety of violations. Officer Fairbanks did an outstanding job organizing the emphasis patrol and coordinating activities for the participating officers.  Here are a few highlights:

During day one of the emphasis patrol, the ocean was less than pleasant and many fishermen stayed in the Straits.  One boat was found in possession of closed season canary rockfish.  Other violations included possessing fish in an unlawful condition (mutilating to hide closed season species, fish under minimum length, etc.), failing to record halibut, and possession of closed season rockfish east of the Tatoosh-Bonilla line. 

Student Officer Marthaller and canary rockfish
The next day halibut season was closed, but nice weather and calm seas had everyone in search of bottom fish.  Officers Anderson and Marthaller and Sgt. Chadwick worked a remote resort area from shore, monitoring boats with limits of fish coming in. Some were filleting their catch and then heading back out for an additional (and illegal) limit.  As the boats returned to shore in the afternoon, Sgt. Chadwick and Officer Marthaller made contact while Officer Anderson kept track of everyone. Over the next three hours, two citations were issued for exceeding the limit for rockfish, one citation was issued for possession of six undersize lingcod and warnings were given to others for over limit rockfish. 

Officers are well aware of all of the tricks folks use to cheat the system, so they monitor behavior closely to zero in on potential illegal activity. One case involving a couple of guys and their ‘diabolical’ poaching plan began with a boat coming into port at 10am on day two of the patrol.  Officers covertly watched the two men fillet three lingcod (you can only have one each for the area fished) before heading back out a short time later. They returned to port around 6:30 that evening.... one man got off at the dock, while the operator took the boat out to a mooring buoy. Ok – so what do you think is going on here? The man on the dock spent some time looking around, then took a skiff out to the mooring buoy to get the other guy off of the boat. The two had a short discussion, and one lingcod was held up high before being put in the skiff. The two men then came back to the dock….. so what’s the problem? Well, Officer Anderson had observed the boat operator put another fish in a plastic bag and stuff it in a cooler. Upon contact the two men said they had caught two lingcod “and a couple of green ling” earlier in the day (remember, we watched them fillet three lingcod?).  They denied having any fish back at the boat. The two lingcod were inspected in their freezer and a third lingcod was found. Sgt. Chadwick explained what he had witnessed earlier and told them he believed there were more fish back at the boat. The pair not only ‘fessed up, but told Sgt. Chadwick that there was also a closed season halibut in possession. The extra lingcod and halibut were recovered and citations were issued.

But citations weren’t the only thing keeping our Officers busy…..

Right before dark on the second day, Officers were just outside of Neah Bay in the patrol boat when Officer Anderson noticed a vessel in between an island and some rocks. As he took a closer look through his binoculars, he saw a man trying to get his attention. Not knowing exactly what was going on, our Officers responded and found a Sea-Doo dead in the water in the middle of a kelp patch.  Officers were able to get close enough to talk to the riders and ask what happened…. to which the skipper replied, “DWS: Driving While Stupid!” Apparently he had tried to take his Sea-Doo through the kelp and… well, you know the rest.  The watercraft drifted close enough to the patrol vessel to hook up a tow line, and our officers were able to return it to port.  The Coast Guard was notified of the situation, and appreciated our Officers’ help. 

The third day of the emphasis patrol, found Officers Anderson, Apple, and Hopkins out on the water, where they located a vessel 1.5 miles inside an area closed to halibut fishing known as the Yelloweye Rockfish Conservation Zone. Citations were issued for closed area fishing.

Officers later stopped a vessel for a routine inspection. They found five mutilated lingcod fillets (to avoid size restrictions) and one halibut. The lingcod was hidden underneath filleted halibut in plastic baggies, with the fisherman claiming the halibut belonged to a friend, and the cod fillets were from the previous day’s fishing adventure (of course). Officer Anderson pointed out the fact that the lingcod fillets were suspiciously supple, and not cold to the touch, indicating that fish had recently been landed. The men were cited for Unlawful Fishing 2nd for the over limit amount of lingcod on the vessel, and for possessing mutilated fish (lingcod).

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