A Brookings commercial crab fisherman has been cited for first degree water pollution after he allegedly dumped nearly 5,000 pounds of rotting, skinned mink carcasses into the Port of Brookings Harbor last week.
Charles Case, 48,owner of the fishing vessel Ann Me, was cited by the Oregon State Police Fish and Wildlife Division over the weekend, according to OSP Officer Brandon Smithers, who is investigating the incident.
The Pilot attempts to reach Case for comment were unsuccessful.
Mink carcasses are sometimes used by commercial fisherman as crab bait. The meat can be purchased frozen from mink farms and arrive as full carcasses without their pelts.
Smithers and port officials determined that Case and his fishing crew dumped the mink carcasses the night of April 1 or early in the morning on April 2. The method of dumping is not clear at this time, officials said.
Citizens and port employees noticed the bloated, rotten carcasses on the surface the morning of April 2.
Port Director Ted Fitzgerald and port employees scrambled to place a boom around a commercial dock underneath which a large amount of carcasses had been found. Next, they used a boat to patrol the basins, using nets to scoop up carcasses.
Fitzgerald contacted law enforcement and the Department of Environmental Quality to investigate and determine who was responsible.
Fitzgerald said he suspected Case after learning that a large freezer the fisherman kept at the port broke, allowing several tons of frozen mink carcasses to thaw and rot. Fitzgerald believe that Case may have been trying to move the bad bait to a waiting boat when some of it spilled into the water Tuesday night.
Fitzgerald said when he talked to Case on April 2, Case said he had "messed up," but wouldn't elaborate. Fitzgerald has not been able to talk to Case since then.
"I'm really angry about this," Fitzgerald said the day of the spill. "What really gets me is that he didn't bother telling anyone that some of the bait hit the water. He had a responsibility to notify others that it happened."
On Saturday, Smithers interviewed Case and the boat's crew. Based on the investigation, Case was cited to appear in Curry County Circuit Court for one count of water pollution in the first degree, a class B felony. If found guilty, Case could face a fine of up to $200,000.
Throughout the weekend, port workers continued to gather carcasses, collecting nearly 3,000 pounds of rotten meat. Workers were forced to wear protective clothing and masks lined with "Vicks" vapor rub to combat the smell. Clean up is continuing as the mink continue to float to the surface, Fitzgerald said Monday.
Fitzgerald said other than the terrible smell, the carcasses posed no health hazard to humans or wildlife.