Police seize 230 lbs of illegally harvested clams from Coupeville beach

A group was found with 77 horse clams. Limits allow seven per license.  - Photo courtesy of Jeff Lee
A group was found with 77 horse clams. Limits allow seven per license.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Jeff Lee

State and local officials confiscated more than 230 pounds of illegally harvested clams from South Madrona Beach June 14.

Coupeville Town Marshal Rick Norrie said seven people were involved with the illegal harvest and received various citations, including harvesting without a license and harvesting over limit.

Illegal shellfish harvesting is an ongoing problem in Penn Cove, said Jeff Lee, an officer with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s a continual problem all over Whidbey Island,” he said, “but especially with Penn Cove. When the tide goes out, it’s a constant battle. People will shell on the beach and hide them in their clothes. They’ll hide bags and come back for them later.”

Norrie said he received a request June 14 from Fish and Wildlife to assist on a call concerning a group of people harvesting shellfish at Coupeville Town Park.

He arrived prior to the game officer and made contact with a woman who had called in the complaint. She told Norrie she witnessed two men walking up a trail from the beach with large bags of clams on their backs.

By the time Norrie arrived, the men were no longer in the area, but the witness pointed out a spot in the trail where bags were hiding in the bushes.

“I kid you not, there were probably 100 pounds of bagged clams,” Norrie said.

As Norrie was standing on the trail, two women came walking up.

“They saw me mid-stride, carrying buckets of clams,” he said.

When Lee arrived on scene, Norrie went farther down the trail, where he found another 50 pounds of the bivalves hidden in the bushes. There was also another bag on the beach along with three additional women.

Norrie said he had difficulty speaking with the woman because of a language barrier. He said he saw two men swinging on the swing set at the park, just watching. They both had muddy legs.

The original witness identified the two men as the ones she saw initially bringing clams up the trail. Norrie said the men told him the ladies had asked them to help carry the clams.

Of the seven people, five of them had shellfish harvesting licenses.

Per state law, a person can harvest up to 10 pounds of butter and cockle clams per license. They can also harvest seven horse clams per license.

After taking inventory of the harvest, Norrie concluded that the group harvested 280 pounds of butter and cockle clams, 77 horse clams and was also in possession of several moon snails, which are illegal to harvest.

“It was amazing the volume they had,” Norrie said.

All seven people were cited with multiple citations.

They included first- and second-degree citations for harvesting over limit and harvesting without a license, all gross misdemeanors.

Lee said the group was being arraigned in Island County District Court Tuesday. The men and women were from Everett and Lynnwood, Norrie said.

Lee confiscated what the group was not legally able to harvest, more than 230 pounds of clams. He attempted to take the confiscated clams to various food banks including Coupeville, Oak Harbor and even a food bank in Anacortes.

“I’ve given a lot of fish to them lately,” Lee said, “But they weren’t open.”

In the end, Lee had to take the clams out into Deception Pass and dump them in deep water as a means of disposal. It is very unlikely any of those clams survived, he said.

While there have been several citations this year for harvesting over the limit, Lee said this is by far the biggest case.

“There’s nothing compared to this with the sheer quantity,” he said.

Norrie said this case is a great example of jurisdictions working together.

“Town people saw it was wrong and said something,” he said. “This shows a collaborative effort of us protecting our natural resources.”


















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