Fish exporter, facing 10 felonies, calls charges ‘silly’

There’s a lot of paperwork involved in the complicated world of commercial fishing.

Pierce County prosecutors allege a Tacoma seafood exporter intentionally ignored recording with the state more than $2 million in product he moved last year.

For that, they’ve charged him with 10 felony counts of first-degree unlawful use of a fish buying and dealing license.

Brad Bailey, who’s been summoned to Superior Court on March 5 to answer the charges, calls the case against him “silly.”

Bailey, 59, told The News Tribune on Friday he thought he didn’t need to fill out “fish receiving tickets” for the more than 600,000 pounds of hagfish he had shipped up from Oregon last year.

The animals were caught in Oregon and their capture recorded there, he said.

“As far as I was concerned, everything was above board,” said Bailey, who exported most of the product to the Korean Peninsula, where there is a lucrative market for the slime eels. “Jeez, they’re going to hit me with 10 felonies?”

Officers with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife began investigating Bailey in December while inspecting outbound cargo at Sea-Tac Airport, court records show.

“They were in the Korean Air cargo facility and came across an airway bill for a company called Mr. King Crab with an address in Tacoma, Wash.,” the records show. “The officers did not recognize the name of this business and decided to follow up with the business.”

The officers drove to Bailey’s business and found large numbers of hagfish in plastic totes.

Bailey arrived at the facility shortly thereafter and allegedly told the officers he bought the hagfish from licensed fishers in Oregon and had the eels trucked to Tacoma where he stored them for a few days before shipping them on to Korea, the records show.

Bailey said he gets about $4 per pound for hagfish and had about 35,000 pounds on hand that day.

The officers asked to see the paperwork for the fish and noted Bailey had no fish receiving tickets for Washington. Bailey told them he didn’t think he needed them as the hagfish were caught in Oregon.

“Officers pointed out that FRTs are required any time fish are transported to the state of Washington,” court records show.

There are good reasons for that, Mike Censi, deputy chief of Fish and Wildlife’s enforcement division, said in an interview last week.

State regulators need to know where fish for sale were harvested to protect the state’s resources, the fairness of the market and consumers, he said.

“We need to know what’s being taken, where, when and how much,” Censi said. “At the end of the day, we don’t know where the fish is from if the paperwork isn’t there to support it.”

The officers determined Bailey, with whom they’ve had “multiple dealings” over the years, had been importing hagfish from Oregon since at least March 2013, court records show.

“Officers document 69 different FRT violations,” the records show, but prosecutors consolidated the case into 10 counts.

Bailey told The News Tribune the issue is strictly a bureaucratic one, that no taxes or other fees are due. He since has changed his practices to fill out the necessary Washington forms, he said.

“It’s just a paperwork deal they want me to do,” Bailey said. “It’s just silly. But they have the guns and the ticket books, so if you don’t do what they say ”

The crimes Bailey is accused of carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison, $10,000 fine and license revocation for two years.