Astoria operator cited for wasting crab, but says safety came firstThe Oregon State Police cited an Astoria fisherman this weekend for allegedly wasting a portion of his crab catch.
Michael R. Latham, 39, was cited for waste after an OSP trooper inspected Latham's boat, the Charlotte B, at the Fishhawk Fishery dock Sunday morning and reportedly found 980 pounds of dead crab out of the boat's total haul of 6,705 pounds.
OSP Sgt. Jeff Scroup said state law prohibits the wanton destruction of fish or other game, and he said he believes negligence may have played a role in Latham's case.
But Latham said he had to make a captain's decision between taking his boat in early because of rough weather or risking his craft and crew to ensure none of his catch died. He chose to bring in his boat, and feels the crab lost does not constitute a criminal offense.
The waste or destruction of game is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $5,000 or up to a year of jail, Scroup said, adding that jail time is rarely sentenced for game violations.
He said there are usually three to four cases of alleged waste on the Oregon Coast during an average year.
After they are caught, crab are kept alive in tanks on fishing boats so they arrive at the processor as fresh as possible.
Scroup said waste can occur when a mechanical failure allows oil to seep into the crab tank, killing crab. The common thread in a waste case, he said, is negligence.
"The idea is they're going to bring these crabs back to the dock and they're going to be alive," he said.
Making sure those crabs are alive is part of OSP's job to enforce state fishing regulations. "It's one way of ensuring the product is fit for human consumption," Scroup said.
Scroup said it protects both the resource and the industry, making sure that fisherman do their utmost in preserving their harvests.
"I know the (processing) plants are fairly distraught when a boat comes in with a fairy healthy percentage of dead product," he said.
Latham said, as a fisherman, he wants to sell all of his catch for the most money, and questioned the logic of charging him with negligence when he lost about $1,000 in dead crab.
He said rough seas forced him off the ocean and into the Columbia River earlier than he planned. Coming in early, he was unable to offload his crab, and being in the river meant he was unable to circulate fresh seawater through his crab tanks. Without fresh seawater a portion of crabs near the bottom of the tank died.
"It's one of those calls, save the boat, save the men or save some crab," he said.
Most of his catch still sold, Latham adds, saying the incident was merely an unfortunate aspect of the fishing business.
"In the crabbing business this happens," he said.
Latham said he plans on fighting the ticket in court.
Steve Fick, owner of Fishhawk Fishery, said fisherman losing portions of their catch happens periodically. He said he appreciates state laws protecting game, but said based on his understanding of wanton negligence that would not necessarily apply in this case.
"People don't do that - be negligent - to cost themselves money," he said.
He said he would expect to see someone charged with waste after they shoot an elk and leave it lying on the side of the road. But he added he knows that the OSP trooper who issued the citation was doing his job, and one that is necessary.