by: Amy Clancy Updated:
State Fish & Wildlife officers have arrested two men suspected of running one of the largest seafood poaching operations ever in western Washington.
One of them is the director of fish and wildlife for the Tulalip Tribes.
Washington State Fish and Wildlife officers seized a truck, because they believe its owner, Anh Le, of Bothell, bought and sold poached seafood.
Investigators believe Le is just a middle man. They say the big fish in this operation is Joseph Hatch Sr, the director of the Tulalip Tribes' Fish & Wildlife unit.
Hatch and his son, Joseph Jr., were arrested late last month and booked into the Snohomish County Jail on suspicion of felony shellfish trafficking. Hatch Sr. also was booked on suspicion of theft after a months-long joint state and tribal investigation.
"We were surprised at the extent of the poaching, and we realized when it involved a tribal member we reached out to that tribe, and we started a very successful investigation in collaboration with the Tulalip tribe,” said Deputy Chief Mike Cenci, with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Hatches are believed to have harvested crab and shrimp, violating both state and tribal laws, because they allegedly fished during closed season and after dark. Investigators say the father and son then sold the product to Le and others for around $6 a pound -- less than a third of retail cost.
Le denied any wrongdoing when confronted by WDFW police Friday, but he also faces possible felony charges. His vehicle was seized. Investigators believe Le sold the shrimp he bought at rock bottom prices from Hatch Sr. to the New Seoul and Phoenix restaurants on Highway 99 in Lynnwood.
On Friday, officers inspected both places, and the restaurants received warnings for missing seafood invoices.
But employees at both also denied buying any poached seafood, as officers with Fish & Wildlife claim.
The investigation continues, and witnesses are still being interviewed. The Hatches have bailed out of jail and are awaiting possible criminal charges in Snohomish County.
"What you saw today, Amy, was us addressing the market end,” Cenci told KIRO 7 reporter Amy Clancy. “I mean, if shellfish is so cheap that it's too good to be true, then it's probably not going to be legal.
We’ve got to do something about this illicit marketplace that is providing the incentive to poach, and that's what we did today."
Below is a written statement from Cenci:
This case represents a collaborative and coordinated effort between State and Tribal enforcement. On July 24, the Washington State Fish and Wildlife Police (WDFW) and the Tulalip Tribal Police concluded a joint and long term investigation involving large scale shellfish poaching and trafficking by serving a number of state and tribal arrest and search warrants. Two suspects were booked into the Snohomish County Jail for their role in closed season and undocumented crab and shrimp harvest, along with the theft of a boat motor. The poaching occurred during the hours of darkness and/or under the guise of a subsistence fishing when commercial harvest and sales were closed. As is usually the case, the illegal harvests were encouraged by the illicit seafood market ready to purchase undocumented product and closed season product. Clearly the Tulalip Tribal police and WDFW Police recognized that a joint and comprehensive approach was needed to address the full scope of this illegal operation and take out both the source and receiving end for the illegal seafood. And they did. When the dust settles and some reports are available for sharing, resource managers are going to need to discuss some disturbing trends that compromise fishery management.