Help sought to ID person after theft from hatchery off Nooksack

Dozens of rainbow trout destined for a Whatcom County kids fishing derby were plucked from a hatchery last month by one or more poachers.

Now the state Department of Fish & Wildlife is asking for the public’s help in identifying a person seen on camera entering the remote hatchery with a fishing pole and departing with a string of fish.

“He seems to be the main person I’d like to identify,” said Fish & Wildlife Officer Ryan Valentine.

The pond off the Nooksack’s middle fork doesn’t have signs to let people know fishing there is illegal, but it’s obviously a hatchery, Valentine said. People must walk past a locked gate; the pond has nets to keep birds from taking the fish. Besides, fishing in ponds is illegal in the state.

The rainbow trout headed for the derby in mid-May were 2 to 2 1/2 pounds, said Todd Rightmire, an agriculture instructor with the Mount Baker School District who runs the hatchery with the help of students and volunteers. Though it’s difficult to know for sure, Rightmire estimates 100 fish were taken during the current hatchery project.

“It was pretty upsetting,” Rightmire said of the thefts. The Mount Baker students put in a lot of time at the hatchery, working there a few times a week, including after school and on weekends.

“They’re probably more mad than I was,” Rightmire said of his students.

“We’re raising these for kids, and for kids to enjoy the outdoors,” Rightmire said. “You get people that are pretty selfish and looking at is as, ‘Hey, free fish.’”

Once the person in the camera shot is identified, Valentine plans to interview him. The penalty for stealing fish depends on the severity and can range from a ticket to a misdemeanor crime.

Anyone who recognizes the person is asked to email or call the Fish & Wildlife Mill Creek office at 425-775-1311.