Washington attorney general charges seafood wholesaler with felonies over failure to report purchases


Tacoma wholesale fish dealer Westlake Seafood has been charged with multiple felonies for allegedly failing to report thousands of dollars worth of sea urchin and Dungeness crab purchases to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The business, which operates a warehouse in the Dome District at 2615 E. N St., was formed in 2017 and on its website claims to export 90 percent of its live products to China and sell the rest in local and domestic markets. According to charging documents filed Thursday, an inspection of its warehouse and financial records in March last year discovered four unreported fish-receiving tickets amounting to $13,760.90 worth of purchases from fishermen.

Westlake Seafood was charged by the Washington State Attorney General's Office with four counts of first-degree unlawful shellfish catch accounting, according to Pierce County Superior Court records. The offense carries a maximum fine of $500,000.

An arraignment hearing was set for Feb. 29.

Reached by phone Friday, Dalong Jiang, who formed the business, told The News Tribune he disagreed with the allegations and that Westlake was not involved in any unlawful activity. Asked about fish-receiving tickets not being submitted on time, Jiang said the ticket was sent but that the mail was returned to him.

"It's all about a report," Jiang said. "It's not like on purpose to receive any illegal fish. It's a different story."

Regarding an alleged discrepancy on one fish-receiving ticket, Jiang said his buyer went to pick up sea urchins, and the fisherman wanted more money from them, so they put more money on the check.

All wholesale fish dealers are required to report their purchases and sales to WDFW or a tribe by submitting fish-receiving tickets, which identify the fishers who harvested the product, the buyer and the species, weight and price of the product.

"Sustainable management of the state's fisheries depends on fisherman and wholesale buyers to submit and complete, accurate, timely FRTs," assistant attorney general Kelsey Force wrote in charging papers. "Fisheries need accurate harvest information to ensure they are setting sustainable harvest limits and seasons."

In March last year, two dive fishermen allegedly told a WDFW Fish Management employee that they sold sea urchins to Westlake on four separate dates in January and February 2023.

The WDFW hadn't received fish-receiving tickets for the sales, records state, and it notified the dealer of the issue March 13. The same day, Jiang emailed two of the missing tickets.

Two days later, WDFW officers inspected Westlake's warehouse to find the remaining fish-receiving tickets, and four were allegedly found ripped up in a trashcan behind Jiang's second-floor office. Two were tickets Jiang had emailed to WDFW March 13, and the other two represented purchases of 2,981 pounds of green sea urchin for $7,899.65 and 1,262 pounds of green sea urchin for $3,344.30.

The ripped-up tickets were taped back together by an officer, records state. In an interview with investigators in June 2023, Jiang allegedly said he thought he'd sent the ripped up fish-receiving tickets to WDFW, and he claimed he became confused about how to report them after getting "different information" from the fish and wildlife agency.

During the March inspection, officers also seized a tribal shellfish ticket that allegedly hadn't been submitted to the required entities. According to the probable cause document, the ticket represented Westlake's purchase of 113 pounds of Dungeness crab for $1,017. The tribal fisherman's identifying info was reportedly blank.

The inspection also turned up a fish-receiving ticket that didn't match Westlake's financial records. Records state the ticket represented a purchase of 225 pounds of red sea urchin for $562.50 and a purchase of 325 pounds of green sea urchin for $650.

When investigators executed a search warrant on Westlake's Chase Bank and Intuit Quickbooks accounts, they found a check from the same purchase date, Feb. 20, 2021, and the same dive fisherman that was $1,500 more than what the fish-receiving ticket listed and 800 pounds over what the ticket reported.

The ticket also didn't belong to Westlake, records state, and it wasn't submitted to WDFW. The ticket had reportedly been issued to Barlow Bay Fish Co., and the owner of the company told WDFW that neither Westlake nor the fisherman were authorized to use it.

A WDFW officer asked the fisherman about the discrepancy, and he allegedly said it was due to back pay. Jiang was also asked about it, and he allegedly told the officer he didn't know why the discrepancy existed, but that it might have been back pay for the fisherman, "overpaying" or giving a loan if the fisherman needed extra money.

Asked about why Westlake used a Barlow Bay FIsh Co. fish-receiving ticket, Jiang allegedly said it might have been because his fish buyer borrowed it.