Reflective Shellfish Swine: I See What The Problem Is

Shellfish swine appear to be in some sort of contest this summer for the most gluttonous overlimit.

WDFW Police this morning reported two shrimpers were caught in the San Juan Islands in July with 1,225 spot shrimp, tasty Puget Sound denizens of the deep.


When Officers Andrew Stout and John Ludwig separated out the duo’s maximum daily limit of 80 prawns apiece and made a not-so-shrimpy pile with the rest of their haul to show how far overboard they had gone, one apparently grasped the situation.

“I see what the problem is,” they said, according to WDFW.

You think?!?!

The pair had not only filled their daily bag, but the equivalent of 13 other shrimpers’ limits.

It angered readers of WDFW Police’s Facebook page:

“Make an example of ’em,” posted Logan Neil.

“They know they’re over when they do it. Should seize their boat and ban them from shrimping in the future…in addition to criminal charges,” stated Patty Bornheimer.

Numerically, it tops a Hood Canal case that WDFW reported on last month in which a party of three was found with 1,155 spotties – equivalent to their limits and those for more than 11 others.

“Math was never my strength,” the ringleader reportedly said.

And it’s a higher per-poacher rate than five early-summer cases from the San Juans in which 12 people in five different boats were essentially caught with their limits and those of 16 other shrimpers.

Then there was the dumb duo sans licenses nabbed by WDFW trying to make off with 151 unshucked oysters from a beach. That limit is a mere 18, and they must be shucked on the beach and shells placed at the same level as where they were harvested, to help the next generation of oysters establish itself.

Indeed, shellfish overharvest is not limited to spot shrimp, nor Washington waters. Both on this blog and in my magazine’s Dishonor Roll page I’ve spotlighted numerous egregious Dungeness, razor clam and mussel poaching cases in Oregon over the past few years.

One particularly heinous crab case from last September had me advocating for putting up a big huge giant SHELLFISHERS, KNOW YOUR LIMITS billboard next to Newport’s “The Friendliest” greeting on Highway 20 just outside town.

(Sorry, I’m just a little sensitive about where I like to go crabbing and plan on doing a bunch of soon.)

So what the hell is the deal, shellfishers?!? How is it so hard to follow the rules?

I mean, I’m not giving city slickers and rural residents alike who show up on the water apparently without realizing there are such things as “regulations” and “daily limits” and “license requirements” a free pass here.

But in this latest case you don’t run around in a boat with four pots, a pot puller and a burning desire to get off the water asap and not have an inkling that there might be restrictions about how many you can keep. It speaks to a willful violation of the rules, and, who knows, perhaps a repeated one.

“‘Oh, I didn’t realize it,'” is one excuse WDFW Police spokeswoman Becky Elder says officers hear. “Come on, guys, you know you were overlimit.”

Maybe there’s just something about shellfish that people don’t seem to realize – or care – that the resource can in fact be impacted by taking too much of it.


Earlier this summer the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission scratched clams, oysters and crabs off the list of Free Fishing Weekend goodies that the public doesn’t need a license to gather. That early June opportunity often lines up with some of the year’s lowest tides, attracting huge turnouts, and in one instance it saw the state’s entire intertidal clam share dug out of a Hood Canal beach in just two days.

As for whether we’re actually seeing more shellfish scofflawery of late, that’s hard to say, Elder says.

Maybe it’s Covid and more newbies on the water, or perhaps just more folks disregarding the rules – which, I’d say, is kind of a society-wide problem at the moment – or it could just be that WDFW has been able to field more officers of late – at last! hurray! – and that’s producing more cases for her to post.

Elder does say she has been making a point of highlighting shrimp overlimits lately, so maybe they’ve just always been there, kinda like backyard wildlife now more readily observable thanks to widespread use of trail cams on at all hours.

I’ve got a tiny medieval justice streak in me, so I asked her why not also put suspect names out there as a proactive deterrent to others. Elder said that WDFW actually isn’t allowed to or able to release identities before a case is finally resolved in court, unless it’s a big one with jailing or felonies involved, as it can sometimes come back and bite the agency in the ass on appeal.

As for seizing the boat and shrimping equipment, that comes with a couple issues too.

“I can show you evidence rooms where we’ve got gear up and down … hundreds of thousands of fishing rods, crab pots, shrimp pots, vessels,” Elder said. “God forbid something happens to the vessel, which we have to pay for if it’s damaged.”

In this latest shrimp case, Officers Stout and Ludwig initially observed the two shellfishers from a distance in Marine Area 7 South, the core of the San Juan archipelago, as they yarded in four shrimp pots “without doing any sorting,” stashed their hoist and then headed back to port.

The wardens intercepted them and found out the two hadn’t tallied their pull yet.

So the kindly WDFW officers helped them do just that by first making a pile with their combined legal limit of 160 prawns, and then put all the rest into another pile that grew and grew and grew.

And grew some more until it took up a fair portion of the back deck of WDFW’s patrol boat.

“After seeing the overlimit, the fisherman’s response was, ‘I see what the problem is,'” WDFW reported.

While it was initially stated that the shrimp had been returned to the water, Elder corrected that to say the extra shellfish were actually donated instead.

As for yon “I See What The Problem Is” and their partner, they could face first-degree misdemeanors, which are punishable by up to a $5,000 fine and a year in jail when WDFW forwards paperwork to county prosecutors.

Meanwhile, Stout’s and Ludwig’s work has legit shellfishers and others singing their praises.

“It’s not the only 2 a holes ruining it for the rest of us but it’s a start! Good job officers,” posted Mike Davis