ABUSE OF RESOURCES on the North Olympic Peninsula — improperly harvesting animals such as fish, deer, elk or natural resources like timber — is common.
The region’s vast size, an area about as big as U.S. states Delware and Rhode Island in square miles, and its remoteness, contribute to making these poaching violations difficult to observe, report and prosecute.
One such encounter, the alleged poaching of wild steelhead and a sublegal cutthroat trout was discovered by state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police along the Quillayute River near Forks on Jan. 20, is now making its way through the court system.
The father/girlfriend/son trio of Michael Welches, 63, Richard Welches, 24, and Vicki Hovey, 55, all of Port Angeles, all were charged in Clallam County District Court in Forks.
The younger Welches pleaded guilty to charges of illegal recreational fishing and received 15 days in jail and fines.
Hovey accepted amended charges, fines and court fees.
The Welches also are implicated in illegally felling, sectioning and selling a Western big-leaf maple tree on Elwha River restoration lands near the former Lake Aldwell in late 2013.
Michael Welches pleaded guilty in that case in U.S. District Court in Tacoma and was sentenced to 30 days in jail on Friday, Jan. 19, a day before he is alleged to have used an illegally barbed hook to illegally retain wild steelhead on the Quillayute.
I think it’s important to state that again. In less than a day’s time, Welches is alleged to have gone from accepting his criminal sentence in a federal courtroom for a tree poaching violation to fishing the Quillayute with illegal gear on a finite resource closed to retention.
Richard Welches was indicted Feb. 2 on one count of depredation of government property for his alleged role in the tree theft and was ordered to appear in federal court to answer to the indictment May 8. He was booked in the Clallam County jail Feb. 8 on a multitude of charges and remains incarcerated.
For more details, visit tinyurl.com/PDN-PoachingAlleged.
Officer has answers
Fish and Wildlife Police Sgt. Kit Rosenberger recently answered some of my questions about fish poaching on the North Olympic Peninsula.
He said the $500 civil penalty the younger Welches received will go back into Fish and Wildlife’s rewards fund dedicated to those who report poaching violations.
Patrolling the waters in that stretch near the confluence of the Quillayute, Sol Duc and Bogachiel rivers is routine duty for Fish and Wildlife Police.
“With wild steelhead the last few years, declines in West End Rivers comes hand-in-hand with increased fishing pressure from outside anglers,” Rosenberger said.
“It’s not reactive patrolling, something we are mandated to do. We are being proactive to try and keep the fishery from declining so much that it becomes more limited and turns into the same situation as the Puget Sound rivers where they can’t even have fisheries. We try to protect the fish that are there to keep it sustainable and viable for the future.”
Rosenberger and other Fish and Wildlife Police rely on help from the West End community and fellow law enforcement agencies.
“We have good relationships with the community out there in Forks,” he said.
they see problem areas and ask for patrols and local officers will help us out as well,” Rosenberger said. “We team up with Quileute Tribal Fish and Wildlife officers that patrol that area, so law enforcement agencies are working jointly to patrol those areas out west.”
The wild steelhead catch-and-release fishery does draw its share of offenders.
“That fishery can be a troublesome and it’s a high violation area as well,” Rosenberger said. “Each fishery has its challenges and for the most part, the winter steelhead fishery has a lower violation rate than summer or fall salmon seasons. There are less returning fish than during salmon season, but each wild steelhead kept unlawfully has a much bigger impact on the West End because of those lower numbers.”
Rosenberger said he sees the job of Fish and Wildlife officers as one of ensuring compliance with state regulations and laws.
“Our job is compliance as far as educating, giving a warning, writing them a ticket or taking somebody to jail, we are thinking’ What is the tool that will get us compliance in the future? How we get compliance, how will this person get back on the right track to using the resource and not abusing the resource?
“We try to do as much education as possible and get the word out and most are pretty good about it. We’ve had to let a lot of people know about the single barbless hook rule which came into effect two years ago. They are used to pulling plugs with two treble hooks and now you can only have that single setup.”
Rosenberger said chinook and coho are the most sought-after by poachers.
“The most egregious cases you will have are salmon,” he said. “The last few years with low water conditions, there’s been lots of fish and people can see them and easily target them.”
He said poachers tell him they commit fishing violations for subsistence purposes, but he’s not convinced.
“People tell me it’s to eat them, but I also think there is some sense of entitlement. The limit says it’s four, so I’m going to take four, they feel entitled to the fish. Or ‘the fishing is good today, so I’ll take more.’ Or they want to brag to their buddies about how many fish they caught. And sometimes it’s a crime of opportunity, and other times they go into it premeditated, they have a buddy acting lookout.”
Rosenberger said overharvesting can result from unrecorded fish catches.
“The recreational fishermen who are most detrimental to the resource are poachers who are out there catching fish unlawfully and then selling fish on the black market or smuggling it illegally with commercially caught fish,” he said.
“Lawfully caught commercial — state or tribal — should be recorded on a state fisheries fish receiving ticket. That’s how we figure out the catch rate. You count 20 and take 200 and it will have a huge impact on future runs.”
To call in a poaching violation on the North Olympic Peninsula, phone the state’s Fish and Wildlife enforcement dispatch at 360-902-2936 seven days a week during business hours. After-hours calls can be placed to the Washington State Patrol.