Two commercial fishing boats were confiscated and nine Canadian crabbers were arrested today for illegally harvesting Dungeness crab in U.S. waters.
The arrests resulted from a joint U.S.-Canadian patrol effort aimed at stemming illegal Canadian commercial crabbing south of the U. S.-Canada border. Four boats were contacted today by the patrol, which included two Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) officers and eight officers with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
This morning the two boats were seized and five crabbers were arrested on suspicion of setting 400 to 500 crab pots illegally in Boundary Bay, about one-eighth of a mile south of the U.S.-Canada border, according to Capt. Bill Hebner, who heads WDFW enforcement activities in northern Puget Sound.
The seized vessels, both 30 feet long, were the Bounty Hunter, out of White Rock, B.C., and the Friendship, out of Crescent Bay, B.C.
Later in the day, the joint patrol intercepted two more Canadian vessels that were earlier observed and were suspected of illegal crabbing in the same area. That follow-up effort resulted in four more arrests but those boats were not seized, Hebner said.
Hebner said it will take a crew of a dozen WDFW enforcement officers a full day to identify the illegal crab pots set by the arrested crabbers, and secure and store them as evidence. The pots typically contain six to 10 crabs each, and the crab will be returned to the water to provide opportunity for U.S. crabbers.
Illegal Canadian crab harvest in more productive Washington waters has been a long-standing enforcement problem, which crops up annually with the opening of Canadian commercial crab season, Hebner said. The harvest can involve up to 2,000 pots placed illegally each year, he added.
The Canadian commercial crab season opened July 31. The Washington sport crab season does not open in the area until August 19 due to soft crab shell conditions, and the state's commercial crabbing is expected to open shortly thereafter.
"This illegal activity has a tremendous impact on the resource and on the economic well-being of U.S. crabbers," said WDFW Enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork.
"Cooperation with Fisheries and Oceans Canada is critical in curtailing this illegal harvest and their efforts are greatly appreciated," Bjork added.
Today's arrests were made after officers intercepted two vessels as their occupants were setting crab pots south of the border. When the crabbers spotted the enforcement boat they moved their vessels back into Canadian waters. The enforcement officers followed, and the Canadian officers made the arrest.
The five suspects were taken into custody in Crescent Harbor, British Columbia, and the two boats were seized.
All the suspects face Canadian charges of fishing in foreign waters without appropriate or valid licenses, which carry a maximum penalty of $100,000 for a first time offense. In addition, WDFW plans to file separate charges against the five in Whatcom County, according to Hebner.
Media advisory: Members of the news media who wish to accompany WDFW enforcement officers tomorrow as they depart from Blaine to collect illegally placed crab gear may contact WDFW Sgt. John Erickson, at (509) 952-9698.