LONG BEACH, Wash. — Robert and David Gudgell, former fishing boat operators for Pacific Salmon Charters, will need to update their resumes.

At a sentencing hearing on Wednesday in South District Court, Judge Nancy McAllister delivered a stinging rebuke to the brothers, who were recently convicted of numerous halibut-poaching charges.

“I really hope your selfish actions do not taint the reputation of the other fishermen in this area,” McAllister said before sentencing the Gudgells to jail time, hefty fees, probation and a one-year ban on being on boats.

Local charter suspected of ‘high-grading’ prized halibut (copy)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Lt. Greg Bush and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Sgt. Tony Leonetti reviewed records at Pacific Salmon Charters in the Port of Ilwaco.

At the conclusion of a two-week trial in late February, Robert Gudgell, 57, was found guilty of eight counts of second-degree unlawful recreational fishing, a misdemeanor. David Gudgell, 58, was found guilty of nine counts of second-degree unlawful recreational fishing. He was also found guilty of one count of waste of fish and wildlife, a gross misdemeanor.

The charges stem from a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife investigation opened in spring 2017 after customers on a halibut fishing trip said the crew caught more than the limit, stored extra fish in a “livewell,” then cherry-picked the largest fish at the end of the day. They also alleged the crew dumped the unwanted fish, some of which were dead, overboard. An undercover officer allegedly observed similar behavior on a June 2017 trip.

{span}Deputy Prosecutor Ben Haslam{/span} asked the court for stiff penalties in part because he did not believe the defendants had shown any contrition or taken responsibility for their actions.

“We understand this is their livelihood,” Haslam said. “They’re gonna have to find something else to do.”

Defense attorney Nate Needham called it “a case about catching fish and releasing fish.” He said his clients were actually conscientious stewards of their industry and the environment who were tripped up by “gray areas” in the law.

“No one wants to see dead fish released,” Needham said. “It’s not the way they were raised, it’s not the way they were brought up and it’s not the way they want to be remembered.”

He argued that the laws did not provide clear enough rules for situations where multiple passengers are pulling in fish at the same time, and did not specifically mention livewells. Needham said the Gudgells had no previous violations, and were never over limit when they returned to port.

“Everyone who went fishing was licensed,” Needham said. “They fished with the right gear, they fished in the proper place, during the proper time.”

Needham asked Judge McAllister not to impose the boat ban, saying that after more than 20 years each in the industry, they had few other job prospects. He said the Gudgells would likely have no way to pay their fines and might end up serving additional jail time as a result.

“If the court hands down a sentence that takes away their ability to earn a livelihood, it will be an irreparable, almost unrecoverable circumstance,” Needham said. “For these two gentlemen that’s a huge, huge consequence.”

When it was time to deliver her sentence, McAllister did not mince words.

“You testified that you were concerned about the resources, and I simply do not believe that is true,” she said.

During the trial, both brothers said they came up with the idea of installing livewells to hold fish because they thought it was better for the fish. McAllister said she didn’t think the law had any “gray areas” where livewells were concerned, and didn’t think they would have kept the livewell idea to themselves if it had actually been good for the fishery.

“You knew your tactics were questionable, and you knew those tactics would affect the fisheries that you were fishing in,” McAllister said. “I’m troubled by the 20 years of experience that you have in the industry, and that this is your life, and yet you would do this to your own industry.”

McAllister sentenced David Gudgell to 55 days in jail, a $15,000 fine, two years of probation and a one-year ban on being on any boat but a ferry. She sentenced Robert Gudgell to 40 days in jail, an $8,000 fine, two years probation and a boat ban.

The judge agreed to let the brothers serve up to half of their time as community service. However, she said the service would have to involve preservation of natural resources, and would have to be approved by the prosecutor’s office. She also specified that the jail time was not to be served on weekends.

“Jail time is to start May 1,” McAllister said. “To coincide with the halibut season.”

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