A Westport commercial crab fisherman has been convicted of stealing offshore crab pots. Larrin Breitsprecher, 57, was found guilty of possessing stolen property and related charges by a jury, and sentenced to house arrest and a fine of $5,000 by Grays Harbor County Superior Court Judge Mark McCauley. This verdict concludes an investigation by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) that began a year ago.
According to WDFW Police Captain Dan Chadwick, the investigation into Breitsprecher began after a deckhand who worked for him reported to officers that Breitsprecher ordered him to steal crab pots while fishing in Westport. Officers from the Quinault Indian Nation and WDFW obtained a warrant and searched Breitsprecher’s gear shack located at the Port of Westport. They seized 32 crab pots and determined that at least 24 of these pots were stolen from other crabbers. Breitsprecher’s house arrest will begin in May and will last for 90 days.
With a price of $200 to $250 dollars for a single, fully-rigged commercial crab pot, the theft of even a few can seriously cost a crab fisherperson. A loss of more than a few pots could potentially cost a fisherperson a quarter or more of his or her yearly salary. Poaching and theft of crab pots from rival commercial fishing vessels is quite common, and something that WDFW would like to get under control. According to a WDFW news release, Captain Chadwick stated that “We appreciate that the Grays Harbor prosecutor’s office pursued this case, because it demonstrates that the law extends to ocean waters.” Captain Chadwick also wished to express gratitude to the Quinault tribal police for their help during the investigation.
Theft of crabs and crab pots is a difficult crime to prevent, as crabbing involves leaving hundreds of dollars of equipment unattended for extended amounts of time in remote locations. Some fishermen have taken to using GPS to track their buoys, locking their pots with padlocks, and some have suggested using cameras, if the pots are close to shore, to get a look at the thieves. A greater awareness of the problem would also help, so be sure to report any stolen crab pots to the police.