Geoduck poacher sentenced to jail time

A Port Orchard man received a four-month sentence after illegally harvesting 300 pounds of geoduck clams from the Olympia area and dumping them near Port Orchard.

Matthew R. Petersen, 27, pleaded guilty to first-degree unlawful shellfish trafficking and two counts of second-degree theft in Kitsap County Superior Court on Sept. 8. He was sentenced to 4 months with credit for time served by Judge Leila Mills.

Deputy Chief Mike Cenci, of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police, said Petersen’s case was long and complicated — as is common for many poaching cases. He called the case a “rare win” for the department.

“We don’t see it often, but we know it’s happening,” Cenci said. “When natural resources have value, you’re going to have poaching activity. But geoduck can be harvested 24/7 regardless of the tide so it’s hard to pinpoint.”

Petersen’s case started July 22, 2012, when state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police officers responded to a call that hundreds of pounds of geoduck had been dumped at a boat ramp near Port Orchard.

The clams had been “banded and tagged” — a practice common in commercial geoduck harvest, according to court documents. According to the tags, the geoduck had been harvested July 19 in Hood Canal. The tags were printed with Petersen’s address and phone number.

The officers reported that the clams smelled very bad, meaning that they had likely been dead for a few days.

In his report, Lt. Paul Golden of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife Police explained that fishermen can usually expect between $10 and $25 per pound for geoduck on the legal market. He estimated that the dumped geoduck were worth between $3,060 and $3,672.

“Buyers and markets for geoduck clams are abundant, and the dumping of several thousand dollars worth of geoduck is very rare,” Golden wrote.

Golden learned from other Department of Fish and Wildlife officials that Petersen held licenses allowing him to harvest geoduck for a Kent company. But Petersen’s license had been suspended after the Department of Natural Resources found violations near a boat operated by Petersen and another diver, according to court documents.

Golden and another officer drove to Petersen’s house to ask if he knew about the geoduck. Peterson said he didn’t know anything about the dumped clams and that his geoduck tags and license had been stolen.

Officers contacted the Kent-based company to see if they had purchased any geoduck from Petersen. The manager said they hadn’t, but Petersen had called and texted him offering to sell him geoduck for $12 per pound. The manager said they never agreed on a price, according to court documents.

Officers learned that Petersen also approached an Oregon-based company, offering a discount on geoduck if the company didn’t inspect his license. The company declined his offer.

But officers didn’t find the source of the dumped geoduck until February of 2013, when another geoduck diver called and reported that Petersen had stolen his boat and used it to poach geoduck near Olympia, according to court papers. The diver also claimed that Petersen had stolen gear from other fishing boats.

Petersen’s ex-girlfriend also came forward, telling a similar story, according to court papers. She said Petersen harvested the geoduck near Olympia but claimed they came from Hood Canal when he tried to sell them. She explained that the geoduck went bad when he had a hard time finding a buyer, so he decided to dump them at the boat ramp.

Petersen eventually admitted to poaching and dumping the geoduck, and to stealing the fishing gear. He said he had forgotten his identification tags were still on the geoduck when he dumped them.