An investigation into shellfish poaching has revealed that stolen seafood was delivered to some of the best restaurants and markets in the Northwest, and it may have been unsafe to eat.
Though the operation targeting G&R Quality Seafoods started nearly two years ago, and most criminal charges were filed last year, the accused players are still being rounded up, tried and convicted.
One of the accused poachers, 48-year-old Richard Finch, was booked into the King County Jail on charges of trafficking clams and oysters this week.
According to court documents, Finch delivered the seafood to some of the best restaurants and farmer’s markets throughout Seattle and Tacoma.
If convicted, Finch will spend 60 days in jails and pay more than $7,000 in restitution.
The Department of Fish and Wildlife said it takes shellfish poaching very seriously.
“We’re absolutely serious about apprehending these criminals, and we’re very serious about public safety and consumer protection,” said Sergeant Mike Hobbs, head of Fish and Wildlife's investigative unit.
According to court documents, the accused poachers stole shellfish from public and private beaches and put consumers’ health in jeopardy.
The state of Washington has strict laws regarding where shellfish can be harvested as dictated by the Department of Health.
When shellfish is poached, there is no guarantee that it's safe to eat. It could be coming from a sewer outfall or a beach with a red tide, authorities said.
The alleged head of the operation, Rodney Allan Clark, will go on trial next spring.
Meanwhile, consumers buying seafood at a farmer’s market or elsewhere can ask to see the Department of Health’s tag certifying the shellfish is OK to eat.