By David Ham
Leonard Nichols is starting a 30-day jail sentence for his part in one of the largest shellfish poaching operations in the state. He'll also have to pay the state $14,407.55 in restitution.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officers said he worked for G & R Quality Seafood Company. Investigators believe the owners of the company, Rodney Clark and Karen Kenyon ordered 11 of their employees to poach shellfish illegally from private and public shores, mostly across the Hood Canal.
Officers said none of the shellfish was taken from polluted waters, but the catch was sold to Seattle-area restaurants that didn't know they were getting poached shellfish. "Shellfish is a valuable resource. People pay a lot of money for a quality product and they'll steal it from anywhere including private property or public property," said Deputy Chief Mike Cence of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. WFDW estimates the poaching ring stole about $750,000 of shellfish over about two years.
G & R and its employees allegedly falsified the tags that said where the oysters are from. Officials said the tags are also hugely important if there's an outbreak of some sort from oysters or other shellfish. "It lays out where it was harvested, who harvested and where it was from," said Cence.
Bad oysters can cause typhoid fever, flu-like symptoms and even death in the worst cases. Consumers can ask to see the tags wherever they buy oysters -- even at restaurants. "If you're going to steal shellfish, you're probably going to be smart enough to falsify documents," said Cence. He admits that the tags are easy to falsify. The state is looking into turning it into an electronic system.
Clark and Kenyon are expected to stand trial in September for allegedly leading the poaching operation.