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July 31, 2002
Contact: Chief Bruce Bjork, WDFW Enforcement, (360) 902-2373
or Tom Moore, Pierce County Prosecutor's Office, (253) 798-6613

Suspect in shellfish racketeering case arraigned on 101 new charges

A Pierce County man arrested in March for allegedly leading a $2 million crab and geoduck clam poaching ring was arraigned today in Pierce County Superior Court on 101 additional charges of illegally catching and selling thousands of pounds of crab from the Nisqually Delta area.

Douglas John Martin Tobin, 50, faces 68 new felony counts involving unlawful trafficking in fish and wildlife, commercial fishing in closed waters, unlicensed commercial fishing and fish dealing without a license, as well as 33 gross misdemeanor charges for failing to report commercial fish sales.

"This was clearly a major theft that may have had a devastating impact on the resource in this area," said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) Enforcement Chief Bruce Bjork.

Tobin has been held in Pierce County Jail on $510,000 bail since his March 18 arrest on suspicion of 41 felony charges of leading organized crime, trafficking in stolen property, theft and unlawful commercial fishing. In conjunction with the arrest, Tobin's 42-foot commercial fishing vessel, vehicles and several rifles were seized, along with more than 1,500 pounds of geoduck from his processing plant and residence. Since his arrest, Tobin also was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm.

After Tobin's arrest, WDFW detectives recovered records from Washington, Oregon and California, identifying close to 100,000 pounds of crab they believe Tobin harvested and distributed illegally.

Working over a period of several months, WDFW enforcement officers downloaded computerized navigational records from Tobin's seized commercial vessel, and contracted a commercial trawler and side-scan sonar operator to assist in the recovery of 110 crab pots which Tobin allegedly placed in Puget Sound water near the Nisqually Delta. The department's 56-foot ocean patrol vessel and two 43-foot patrol vessels also were used in the recovery effort.

"WDFW enforcement spared no expense in attempting the recovery of this illegal gear," Bjork said.

Live crab found in most of the pots were returned to the water.

Crab from the Nisqually Delta are known for their large size and unusually hard shells. However, the state and the Nisqually Indian tribe, which has treaty shellfish harvesting rights in the area, have not allowed commercial crabbing there in recent decades to avoid depleting the resource.

Most of the crab allegedly harvested by Tobin were distributed through his Fife warehouse to locations in Washington and Oregon.