Four Bothell men were cited and their boat was confiscated when they were found with too many crab in the Baby Island area of Holmes Harbor July 23.
Mike Cenci, deputy chief of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said Thursday that two officers were patrolling the area in the daytime incident.
The officers questioned the men in the boat about how many crab they had, and they answered 22. That in itself would have been a violation, because the Dungeness crab limit is five per person.
Officers checked the men’s credentials and found only three possessed shellfish licenses. A check of three coolers in the vessel showed they were “jam packed” with crab, Cenci said, obviously far in excess of the limit. The men had parked their gray Humvee in the Holmes Harbor parking area, and it contained 30 crab.
The final tally showed 83 Dungeness crab, including three illegal females and three others smaller than the legal size. But the rest were legal-sized males. “They had some really nice crab in their possession,” Cenci said.
The men were fishing with eight crab pots, two over the limit since one did not have a license. And the buoys were not marked, which is another violation. “It’s a decent strategy if you don’t want to be caught poaching crab,” Cenci remarked.
The men now face gross misdemeanor charges of unlawful recreational fishing in the first degree. The maximum penalty is a $5,000 fine and a year in jail, plus possible forfeiture of their boat and fishing gear. Cenci said names are not released until suspects are found guilty.
Cenci said it’s not known if the men were robbing other people’s crab pots, which is a frequent complaint during recreational crabbing season.
This may not be a great year for crabbers, but Cenci said the number of violations is up. “The compliance rate in the recreational crab fishery seems to be poorer than last year.” Figures are not calculated until the end of the season when the number of contacts is compared to the number of violations.
There are, however, more crab in Holmes Harbor than there would have been had the men gotten away with their crime.
“We got them before they were cooked so we returned them to the water alive,” Cenci said.