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Wildlife department awards south precinct of Island County Sheriff's Office

Jeff Lee, an agent with Fish and Wildlife, presents Deputy Darren Crownover, center, and Brent Durley with an award for their service to fight poaching on South Whidbey.  - Ben Watanabe / The Record
Jeff Lee, an agent with Fish and Wildlife, presents Deputy Darren Crownover, center, and Brent Durley with an award for their service to fight poaching on South Whidbey.
— image credit: Ben Watanabe / The Record

Cracking down on crab poachers is all in a season’s work for the south precinct of Island County Sheriff’s Office.

The south precinct contributed its services to the Department of Fish and Wildlife frequently enough to merit a plaque. Deputy Darren Crownover accepted the award on behalf of the sheriff’s office April 22.

“There’s a lot of enforcement down here,” said Jeff Lee, the fish and wildlife agent who oversees North Puget Sound. Fish and wildlife presented the plaque only once in his past 10 years as a game agent.

“We have the best working relationship … You don’t have to tell them what to do.”

Protecting fish and game on South Whidbey is a tricky proposition. Sheriff Mark Brown has argued with Island County commissioners that his office needs more deputies to cover the vast expanse of Whidbey and Camano islands. Crabbing and fishing are popular industries around Whidbey with several boat launches to monitor, and fish and wildlife is understaffed to check all the docks during peak season in summer.

It’s not uncommon for Island County deputies to check crab catch limits at the Clinton dock and find a daily limit, plus 40 others in coolers in a car.

“It’s just something we take on ourselves,” Crownover said, referring to deputies’ involvement with wildlife enforcement. Many of the south precinct officers hunt and fish and want to make sure their fellow hunters and fishers follow the rules.

Once saltwater fishing season begins in late spring/early summer, Lee will partner with the sheriff’s office marine safety unit. As the deputies check boating safety, Lee checks for any fishing or shellfish harvesting violations.

“Eyes and ears are out there,” Crownover said.

In recent years, illegal crabbing was reported and cited by the sheriff’s office in Holmes Harbor and Clinton. A few years ago a routine traffic stop took a bizarre turn when the offender fled, drove his car into the woods where he dumped several coolers full of crab. Crownover recalled the bizarre sight of crabs scurrying around on the forest floor, and the even stranger duty of the deputies to transport as many of the crabs as possible to Puget Sound.

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