This Underground Trade Makes Wash. Detectives Crabby, Very Crabby

Aug 21, 2014

Detective Julie Cook from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife recently solved a case she’s been working on since 2012. Cook worked undercover selling crabs, posing as the fisherman’s wife or girlfriend (women aren’t typically fishermen), hauling the catch around town in a dirty pickup.

Cook was assisted by a Bellingham commercial crabber caught with undersize crab. He agreed to become an informer in return for reducing his penalty. “He helped us get into these markets where he would sell the undersize crab,” Cook said.

The market was so glutted in Whatcom County that his clients were paying $1.50 - 2 per crab (crabs weigh about two pounds). Right now crabs retail for about $15 a pound.

The crabber took detectives with him to sales mainly at Chinese restaurants and nail salons around Bellingham.

Nail salons may seem a stretch for a crab market, but the detectives think “they’re all related to each other.” In one case there was a nail salon next to the restaurant and the detective had to check in with the nail salon before the restaurant would buy them. “They all just knew each other.”

Eleven people have been charged; their cases are still pending. All fish and wildlife trafficking are felonies.

“It could mean prison time, but I doubt it,” said Cook. There was no large-scale poaching ring involved in this case. “I think they will lay low for a while. If the charges are hefty, they will lay off.”

Fish laws are low on the priority list for law enforcement. “I understand the prosecutor’s plates are full, but crabs are a valuable resource to the state. We’re not bringing in tax dollars if you don’t document the crabs.”

Produced for the Web by Jenna Montgomery