By WAYNE KRUSE
A beach resident at Utsalady, on the north end of Camano Island, was a crabby crabber when he called last week, complaining that his recreational gear had been confiscated by a state Fish and Wildlife Department boat.
Since the crab season had closed in Marine Area 8-1 on Nov. 17, the guy really didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. (It reopened Saturday through the end of the month in areas 8-1 and 8-2.) He said no, he didn’t get the paper, and no, since he crabbed right out in front of his own place and tended the pots with his dinghy, he didn’t go down to the boat launch and thus didn’t see any notices posted there. And no, he preferred that his name not be used.
His outrage might well be sincere. He may be, morally, pure as the driven snow. But it’s a little difficult for me to buy the idea that he was completely ignorant of the crab closure. Beach communities are usually closely knit. Everyone pretty much knows what everyone else is doing, at least fishing/clamming/crabbing-wise, and it would seem likely that word of the closure had been passed around.
Still, the guy asked two valid questions. The first concerned the procedure for getting his gear back, and Norm Lemberg, Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish manager at the agency’s La Conner office, said that if the name and phone number on the buoy are legible, the department automatically contacts the owner. Or, the owner can call the La Conner office at 360-466-4345, Ext. 223, and leave a message.
The complication, of course, is that a citation may or may not be issued, but it would probably be for a lot less than the cost of a decent crab pot, particularly one of the better, commercial-grade pots.
The department routinely “sweeps” during the closed months for illegal and derelict gear, Lemberg said. This one in Skagit Bay was “pretty clean,” he said, except for Utsalady.
Sergeant John Erickson, in charge of the sweep, said they found a lot of pots and other types of traps in the Utsalady area. Most of the stuff, he said, was obviously abandoned or derelict gear, from the cheap to the commercial, but that several pots were fishing and were “loaded.”
Which brings up the caller’s second question. “I watched with binoculars as they pulled this gear. It was obvious that some of the pots had crab, but I watched until they were out of sight and I never saw any crab go back in the water,” he said.
“I wish I had his name,” Erickson said. “I don’t know what kind of binoculars he has, but I can guarantee that every single crab, and all the bait from all the fishing pots, went back in the water. No officer would ever take any of these crab to the beach; it’s just not going to happen.”
Erickson said keeping illegally caught crab would be both a violation of department policy and state law, and a direct threat to continued employment with the agency.
Oh, and there was one other item of interest.
“Along with all this other gear,” Erickson said, “we found a live box. It wasn’t fishing, was unmarked, and held at least 25 legal crab.”
Somebody stockpiling for the holidays? Giving them away as gifts? Selling a few on the side?
Erickson said he wouldn’t care to speculate.
The unusual opening this winter of Blue Creek, the “hatchery creek” for the trout/steelhead hatchery on the Cowlitz River, to steelhead and cutthroat fishing, includes a wheelchair-accessible area and a legitimate opportunity for wheelchair-bound anglers to catch winter steelhead.
The run this winter is expected to be a good one, back to the Cowlitz hatchery, and Blue Creek should hold excellent numbers of fish in excess of hatchery brood stock needs.
The upper 40 feet of the area open to anglers on Blue Creek, around the actual hatchery outlet, is designated wheelchairs-only. It was developed as a joint project by the state Fish and Wildlife Department, Tacoma City Light (owner of the hatchery), and the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation, and has a compacted gravel pad, edge protection, signing and a wheelchair-accessible toilet.
Wheelchair-accessible parking and restrooms are also available at the trout hatchery lobby, where handicapped anglers must check in and get an identification tag. The lobby is open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and, because the special angling area can accommodate only seven wheelchairs at a time, tags are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
The Blue Creek season is open through the end of December.