SEATTLE - Fish and Wildlife officers backed by federal law enforcement are serving at least 14 search warrants in a statewide crackdown on the illegal sale of wild animals and fish.
State Department of Fish and Wildlife Chief Deputy Mike Cenci tells KIRO 7 the two-year investigation is the largest of its kind, targeting a widespread black market for elk and deer meat, and fish and animal parts, including the gall bladders of black bears and parts of raptors, or birds of prey.
Cenci said as many as 60 people could be contacted and arrested during Tuesday’s raids and that as many as 400 people could face charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies based on information seized from suspects.
Those suspects include restaurant owners and employees who purchased illegal venison and fish to be sold to consumers without being inspected for safety, Cenci said, adding the commercialization of wildlife for sale in operations of this kind could deal a devastating blow to the wild animal population.
A KIRO 7 camera recorded more than a half dozen wildlife officers at a home in Tacoma. Cenci said the man there was suspected of selling illegal elk and deer meat to commercial buyers.
Cenci told KIRO 7 South Sound reporter Kevin McCarty he could not go into details because the raids and arrests were on-going. The raids are taking place in both western and eastern Washington. Cenci said the investigation did not identify a single criminal conspiracy to sell illegal game, but a large black market involving hunters and fisherman who market to restaurants and individuals in the illegal game, much of it poached out of season.
Cenci said more information should be released in the near future.