LONG BEACH — After an eight-day trial in a Pacific County District Court room, two halibut charterboat skippers were each convicted Feb. 28 on several counts of fishing illegally.
David Gudgell 58, of Seaview was convicted of 10 counts of unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree, and one count of waste of fish and wildlife. His brother, Robert Gudgell, 57, of Longview was convicted of eight counts of unlawful recreational fishing in the second degree. Sentencing is scheduled for March 13.
State Department of Fish & Wildlife Police Captain Dan Chadwick said the department began its 18-month investigation after a tip was received from several clients on the charter boat Westwind, working for Pacific Salmon Charters in Ilwaco. The boat’s customers stated that during their trip, several small halibut were placed in a fish hold filled with water. Larger halibut were bled and put in a fish hold without water.
Charter customers testified that possession limits were exceeded; prior to leaving the fishing grounds, David Gudgell and his deckhand concealed this by throwing overboard up to seven halibut, three of which had had their gills cut, keeping the bigger fish to ensure that the boat returned to port with only the legal limit.
Fisheries officers then conducted another undercover fishing trip on a different vessel working out of the same Pacific Salmon Charter Office, which revealed similar violations.
Fisheries Officer Todd Dielman, who led the investigation, contacted more than 100 passengers who described similar experiences on multiple vessels. This included trips captained by Robert Gudgell on the charter boat Katie Marie. Passengers estimated that more than 70 halibut were retained and later thrown overboard for larger fish.
Witnesses testified that some halibut swam off, while others slowly sank like a leaf falling from the sky.
“This illegal activity is what we call high-grading. It’s something we’re watching for and we rely on tips from the public; they were our eyes and ears on this one. The case would not have been possible without their testimony and the support of the community, including the many local charter boat captains who were appalled by this behavior,” Chadwick said. “We are very grateful for the efforts put forth by Pacific County Deputy Prosecutors Joe Faurholt and Ben Haslam who worked tirelessly on this case. We would also like to thank the witnesses who provided firsthand accounts of these violations.”
Fishing for pacific halibut is a popular recreation activity, though according to officers this type of illegal behavior isn’t typical of ethical charter captains who recognize that their livelihoods depend upon sustainable fish populations. Officers point to how WDFW fishery managers work closely with the fishing industry to ensure quality opportunities for anglers along Washington’s Coast. They say that the regulations help to maintain access to this fishery for everyone.