By Lindsay Cohen
WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. -- Wildlife officials are investigating reports that someone stole as many as 100 fish from a hatchery in remote Whatcom County.
Students from Mount Baker High School stock, feed, and maintain the fish through an annual agricultural program at the school, said Todd Rightmire, a teacher and advisor for Future Farmers of America. The group had roughly 800 rainbow trout this year, all intended for a kids fishing derby on Mother's Day weekend.
"It's not quite like somebody breaking into your house, but my students were even probably a little more upset by it," Rightmire said Wednesday. "They have ownership in this program."
Students noticed the net appeared cut, Rightmire added. He estimated that between 50 and 100 fish were missing.
"That kind of put up a red flag with us," said Carson Schmidt, a senior at the high school who takes part in the program. "Those fish were intended for a kids fishing derby. People don't need to be poaching them. It's just easy game for them."
A camera set up near the pond captured images of a man walking toward the area with a fishing pole at two different times. The pond is protected by a fence, a gate, and several locks, along with a net that hangs over the top to keep birds away.
"Kind of made me feel a little disgusted that people go out there and just steal fish," Schmidt added.
Investigators with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are looking into the matter, a spokesman said, although he added that they have a lower estimate on the number of stolen fish.
The penalty for poaching fish in Washington state can range from a ticket to a misdemeanor.
"When (this) gets violated, that kind of hits home for some kids," added Rightmire. "They want them caught and they want them punished." Video.