On July 13 2017, Washington State Fish and Wildlife officers and agents for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration served search warrants for records upon Ilwaco’s Pacific Salmon Charters. The investigation relates to allegations that during the May and June halibut season two vessels operating out of Pacific Salmon Charters improperly caught and retained halibut utilizing a practice of high grading the catch. High-grading involves a technique of catching fish and bringing them aboard a vessel, once a limit is reached, the less desirable fish previously caught are replaced when a better fish is subsequently caught. The Washington Department of fish and wildlife claims this practice to violate the strict regulations governing halibut fishing.
According to local news reports in the Chinook Observer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife received a tip from one of a group of four-charter fishermen from Idaho who had been on a trip aboard the Pacific Salmon Charter’s vessel the Westwind. The fisherman alleged their group was instructed to continue fishing after their limit of one fish had been reached. The charter fisherman described the Westwind engaged in the “high-grading’ tactic. The complaint from the charter fisherman reportedly indicated halibut were placed in the live well of the charter boat but after catching their limit of halibut the boat continued to fish replacing the smaller fish with better quality fish. Several of the halibut that were returned to the ocean were allegedly dead or had their throats’ cut.
A plainclothes officer reportedly went fishing on the Pacific Dream during a one-day opener in June. The officer stated that at the beginning of the trip they were instructed the charter boat crew would not gaff the smaller fish, and would place them in a live well, so the charter fisherman could “size up” at the end of the day. The undercover officer observed the vessel utilize the high-grade procedure with four fish being returned to the ocean for larger fish. The undercover officer reportedly stated that at least one of the four returned fish was dead. Washington State Fish and Game Department officers met the Pacific Dream when it returned to the dock. Initially the crew denied the high-grading allegations but two crewmen reportedly admitted to the practice after finding out a plainclothes officer had been aboard the vessel posing as a charter fisherman.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is continuing their investigation into this incident. The search warrants served on Pacific Salmon Charters appeared to seek the identities of charter boat passengers who may have information about the high-grading tactics. It is unknown what charges if any may be brought in this matter. Pacific Salmon Charters defense to these allegations is unknown. How wide spread the “high-grading” of fish may be in the charter fleet is unknown. It is not unusual for a fisherman to release a small fish and continue to fish for a better fish, however, the Washington Department of Fish and Game officers stated that once the fish has been brought aboard the vessel and “retained” it counts towards the fisherman’s catch limit and cannot be replaced with a better fish caught later in the trip.