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Low tides strand tribal crab pots on Cultus Bay beach

A crab pot with a dead crab inside sits high and dry on the Cultus Bay beach Thursday at Possession Shores. More than 10 pots belonging to the Tulalip Tribes were out of the water in the area.   - Brian Kelly / The Record
A crab pot with a dead crab inside sits high and dry on the Cultus Bay beach Thursday at Possession Shores. More than 10 pots belonging to the Tulalip Tribes were out of the water in the area.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

A group of Possession Shores neighbors are steamed about tribal crab pots being left high and dry by this week’s extremely low tides.

“The crabs are trapped in the pots,” said Ken Albrecht, who lives on Beachview Drive overlooking that section of Cultus Bay. “A lot of them are dead. Somebody opened the pots and let others out.”

The region this week is experiencing what some say are the lowest tides of the year. Tuesday’s low tide was more than minus four feet, leaving vast stretches of sand uncovered in the shallow bay.

Albrecht said he first noticed the stranded pots on Sunday. They were on the beach near the boat launch at the base of Sandy Hook, on the east side of Cultus Bay.

Albrecht said he counted 11 pots out of the water and attached to a rope leading back into the sea, where other pots may still have been submerged.

He said each pot was numbered, and had a tag reading “Tulalip Tribes.” He said he has seen no one come to retrieve the catch.

On Thursday, the line of stranded pots sat high in the sand at low tide, stretched for hundreds and hundreds of yards along the east side of Cultus Bay. A few contained dead crabs, including one with a large female.

“I called the fish and game department on Monday,” Albrecht said Thursday. “They said they would look into it. I still haven’t gotten a call back.”

Another neighbor called the Washington State Patrol to report the stranded pots.

Ralph Downes, enforcement officer on Whidbey Island for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he received several calls about the situation on Cultus Bay.

He said he was busy with other department business and didn’t investigate personally, but that others in the department did.

Downes confirmed the pots belonged to the Tulalip Tribes. The tribes by treaty have a right to regulate their own fishery.

“The season is open for them,” Downes said. “I’m not sure a violation exists.”

He said that part of the problem is that the Tulalips, unlike other groups, have no stipulation in their rules against leaving pots out of the water.

State law prohibits commercial, sport and other tribal fishers from leaving their crab pots exposed, Downes said, adding: “The Tulalips have never seen that as a criteria.”

He said that when those in the other groups violate the law, they get a $540 ticket.

Downes said he contacted the Tulalips and requested a review of the situation.

Ray Fryberg, Tulalips fisheries director, said Thursday he was unaware of the incident, but would investigate. He expressed surprise that tribal crabbers would be operating in Cultus Bay.

“We have a lot better grounds closer to home,” he said.

Downes said that in his nearly 20 years on the job, he’s run across similar situations fewer than a dozen times, almost always in shallow conditions such as those at Cultus Bay.

He said it would only be common sense for the Tulalips to prohibit the exposure of their pots.

“It’s certainly a situation that needs to be looked at,” Downes said.

“You’d think everybody would do it,” he added.

“When the pots go high and dry on a sunny day, the crabs die pretty quick. Live crabs are worth $1.90 a pound these days.

“Dead crabs are worth zero.”

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