A Mason County man is facing a fine of up to $10,000 and eight months in jail after pleading guilty to theft of shellfish and witness tampering.
Chad Gallagher, 34, pleaded guilty Oct. 22 to one count of first-degree theft and one count of witness tampering in Mason County Superior Court.
Gallagher, owner of Agate Shellfish, also agreed to pay $18,332 in restitution to beachfront landowners in Mason and Thurston county for hardshell clams harvested on their property.
"We're glad we caught up with Mr. Gallagher, and we're especially pleased that our detectives were able to secure restitution for the victims of his illegal acts," said Chief Bruce Bjork of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) enforcement program.
Bjork said WDFW first began investigating Gallagher in 1999 when an employee of Taylor Shellfish complained that Gallagher and his "diggers" were harvesting Manila clams at night on Taylor's Oakland Bay property in Mason County.
In 2000, Gallagher harvested hardshell clams on land owned by as many as 22 Mason and Thurston county residents, agreeing to compensate them and re-seed their beaches, according to witness statements and documents seized in search warrants from Gallagher's business. Gallagher also took clams from beaches where he did not have permission from the owners, including Taylor Shellfish, Bjork said.
"Many of the property owners were never paid for the clams harvested nor were their beaches re-seeded,' said Bjork, noting that Gallagher and his crew harvested several thousand pounds on Taylor Shellfish lands alone.
In addition to the thefts, many of the beaches involved were not certified by the Department of Health for commercial shellfish harvesting, Bjork said. "Those clams were sold to markets by Gallagher and posed a potential health risk to the public," he said.
Once Gallagher became aware of WDFW's investigation, he attempted to persuade one of his employees to lie to detectives about the location and amounts of clams taken. Gallagher told that witness, "If we keep our stories straight they can't prove a thing." However, unknown to Gallagher, a detective was listening from an adjacent room when Gallagher attempted to get the employee to provide false testimony.
Gallagher's sentencing is scheduled Dec. 18 in Mason County Court.