A recently hired Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer has been making some big busts on poachers around Salisbury Point and Port Gamble recently following a period in which much of Kitsap County was without any enforcement at all.
Patrick Murray recently started with WDFW following his previous job as a park ranger. “This area here in Kitsap County, there hasn’t been an officer for about a year-and-a-half,” Murray said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say there was a surge in poaching cases. I think it’s just because there weren’t as many officers to work this area, so they just weren’t being caught.”
At Salisubry point, Murray found three people with more than 100 pounds of butter clams, well above the limit for hard shell clams which states gatherers may harvest 40 clams, or 10 pounds — whichever comes first.
“One of the cases at Port Gamble, between three people there was about 1,505 manila clams that they had harvested,” he said. “I would say 1,500 clams is definitely not usual, but at the same time there’s cases made every year where that does happen.”
Poachers, Murray said, fall into three categories which denote whether they are serious offenders, opportunist offenders, or simply unaware of the rules and regulations surrounding harvest of shellfish. The penalties for someone who has gone over their limit while harvesting shellfish depends on by how much they have gone over. Poachers who have gone over by less than twice the legal limit face a second-degree over-limit violation (a misdemeanor). Poachers who go over the limit by more than twice the legal limit face a first-degree over-limit violation (a gross misdemeanor). Both violations require the individual to appear before a judge who determines what fines they will have to pay.
As for other species being targeted by poachers in the area, Murray said red rock crab were recently among those being kept in abundance by one person.
“I recently caught a person on the Bremerton Marina dock who had 53 crab in his vehicle that they did not tell me about. The limit for those is six per person,” he said.
One of the concerns aside from the exploitation of the area’s natural resources is the potential for illegally harvested clams to enter the market through legitimate means.
“We don’t want these clams to get into the market through restaurants,” Murray explained. “There’s something called paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP. If they’re not harvested and taken care of correctly, people can get severely sick by eating bad shellfish.”
One of the roles of the Department of Fish and Wildlife is to determine the intent of the poachers, Murray said.
“Some of these people who are collecting these thousands of shellfish, we have to determine whether this is just somebody that took a lot and is going to go home and eat all of them, or if it’s somebody who is going to try to sell them.”
Harvesting regulations and information can be found at wdfw.wa.gov, in the 2018-19 Fishing Regulation Pamphlet and through the Fish Washington smartphone app.