Jim Unsworth’s monthly update to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission usually provides an interesting glimpse into his agency’s activities around the state, including cases game wardens have been working, and today’s report does not lack in that regard.
Along with highlighting the previously reported investigation of 10 Southwest Washington residents alleged to have poached some 100 deer and bears in Oregon and Washington, it spotlights the alleged undocumented taking of a couple hundred thousand pounds of Puget Sound marine life.
Sea cucumber poaching won’t garner the interest that illegal killing of big game or salmon will, but with high consumer demand in overseas markets, there’s a financial incentive to collect and sell more than is otherwise allowed, stressing the resource.
According to WDFW, an investigation that began in late 2015 of a company that buys, packages and sells sea cucumber revealed to agency wildlife detectives “that the amount of cucumbers purchased from commercial fisheries was often as much as 40 percent more than was documented on catch reports (fish receiving tickets).”
The agency says that “months of painstaking analysis” of documents seized under search warrants led detectives to believe that 131,424 pounds of sea cucumbers were harvested but not reported by some tribal fishermen in 2014-15, with 107,537 more pounds went unrecorded during the 2015-16 season.
No locational or tribal information was included in the report.
By comparision, during WDFW’s 2016-17 nontribal commercial fishery, around 350,000 pounds of sea cucumber were harvested in Puget Sound and the Straits — two-thirds or 235,000 pounds of which came from the San Juans district — before quotas were met and seasons were closed.
Additionally, Unsworth’s report alleges that four nontribal fishermen are also suspected of not fully documenting their sea cucumber harvests, selling nearly 15,000 pounds over three seasons, and that a fish buyer “admitted to … collusion” with the quartet.
“The effect these violations had on exceeding the total allowable catch for the fishery is still being determined,” reads the report. “Department biologists have observed classic signs of sea cucumber over-fishing in some areas for quite some time. This includes reduced abundance, reduced catch per unit effort, a diver transition to deeper harvest, and a reduction in the size (weight) of sea cucumbers.”
The report says that felony charges against the four fishermen are being prepared for county prosecutors to review.