Officer Harry Cilk has a lot of ground to patrol as a game warden for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Grays Harbor.
Sometimes he gets a little help from unlikely sources.
That was the situation in the Case of the Poached Perch.
Cilk’s fellow crime fighter: a gull.
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The crime occurred on a foggy beach at Grayland Beach State Park on Aug. 22.
The only group of people on the beach that day: two men fishing in the surf and a woman near their vehicle.
And one gull.
Cilk watched them for a bit, using the fog as a cover.
Surf perch can be caught year-round with a limit of 12 per day and a salt water license.
They’ve been getting popular recently, Cilk said. That can lead to greedy behavior.
“When the fishing is too good, they can’t help going overboard a little,” Cilk said.
In this case, the trio went overboard and kept fishing.
When Cilk drove up to the trio’s vehicle, he quickly located enough perch in two ice chests to meet all three’s limit. But Cilk soon became suspicious of the woman, who claimed she had been fishing.
“She wasn’t wet or covered in sand,” he said. Her waders were neatly folded, clean and dry.
When approached, both men said the only fish they had caught were the ones hanging on their waists.
“So, I walked them back to my truck and showed them the coolers,” Cilk said.
By that point the two men had caught 42 perch — 18 over the limit.
Meanwhile, Deputy Gull took the scene in through pale yellow eyes.
Cilk got into his truck to write the men up for being over their limit and failing to submit their harvest. Both are gross misdemeanors.
Then, he noticed something fishy.
“I looked up and saw that seagull going to town on a pile of seaweed,” he said. Soon, the gull pulled out a white plastic grocery bag.
Cilk opened the bag and found 12 more perch.
“Nobody wanted to admit what happened,” Cilk said. “They were in that vehicle.”
The woman had apparently moved them from a hiding place in the vehicle to the seaweed while Cilk was talking to the men.
In total, the two fishermen had caught 54 perch — 30 over the limit.
Cilk also found two crabs stuffed in rubber boots. One was under the size limit.
The perch poachers will have to make court appearances.
This isn’t the first time Cilk has had the help of a feathered deputy.
The officer is frequently assisted by birds, he said.
“They are game wardens with wings,” he said.
“Ravens are awesome,” he said. The large black birds will make a beeline for dead game no matter how well a poacher has tried to hide it.
Cilk has located several deer kills while talking to poachers, just by watching for the growing collection of birds.
“You can just see the nervousness in their eyes,” he said. He was talking about the hunters, not the birds.
Clam diggers can be snitched out by birds, as well. Clammers are required to keep all the clams they dig up, regardless of size.
So some diggers will toss small clams back on to the beach.
“I just start counting how many clams the birds take,” Cilk said.
As for Detective Gull, there’s no badge coming, but Cilk is grateful.
“I would have shared my lunch with it if I had one,” he said.