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Local Divers Are Furious About Octopus Hunters in the Puget Sound

octopus_1.jpg
The octopus hunter shows off his catch at Seattle's Seacrest Park. Photo by Scott Lundy. | Zoom
UPDATE: Click here to hear the octopus hunter, Dylan, tell his side of the story to Ron & Don

The Giant Pacific octopi that live in Seattle's Puget Sound are the biggest in the world, and their tentacles attract scuba divers from all around the globe. Dive instructor and underwater photographer, Bob Bailey, has been admiring the octopi that live near Alki Beach for the past ten years, so he was horrified by what he saw at West Seattle's Seacrest Park on Wednesday.

"I looked over and I could see two divers surface swimming in and clearly, between the two of them, was a very large octopus. It was kind of weakly writhing and obviously trying to get away. They got out of their gear and dragged it up on the beach and then the one guy picked it up, and as he's picking it up I said, 'What are you guys doing?' and he said, 'We're hunting.' I said, 'Here? This is a park! This is the most popular dive site in Puget Sound!'"

The 19-year-old hunters, who have since been found on Facebook proudly posing with the dead octopus, were also seen punching it as they pulled it from the water. But here's the thing: Hunting octopus is completely legal, and the hunters let Bob know it.

"It was, 'We know what we're doing. We're legal. There's nothing you can do about it.' And I said to him, 'You're about to become the most unpopular scuba diver in Puget Sound.' And he said, 'I don't care.'"

Bob says the fact that something is legal does not make it right.

"Duck hunting is legal. It's perfectly legal. Imagine how you would feel if, while you were enjoying these ducks in the park, someone walked up and shot them. That's very much analogous with how divers feel when someone pulls an octopus out of a popular site."

Bob has wasted no time informing the local media, and dive shops, about what he saw, and has received emails of support from divers around the globe.

"This young man, within one day, has literally been banned from every scuba shop in the Puget Sound area and virtually every dive charter in the Puget Sound area. Those people didn't do that out of emotion. They're protecting their business. People come here from all over the world and they pay money to come here to see these animals. So there is an economic interest in protecting them."

I got a call from Brandi Hocksenson, the mother of one of the 19-year-olds. Since this story has broke, she says both families are getting threats when their sons have done absolutely nothing wrong.

"They went fishing for an octopus, they had the license, they did everything the way they were supposed to. Brought it home and filleted it and cooked it and shared it with friends and family. They're amateur divers. They went to the local spot on Alki because neither one of them has enough experience to go into bigger open waters in Puget Sound."

One of the reasons the boys have been vilified is because of some photos found on one of the hunter's Facebook page.

"Someone found his Facebook profile and found many pictures that appeared to be photos of animals being tortured," says dive instructor Scott Lundy, who was also on the beach that day. "Things like a firecracker being stuck in the mouth of a snake or someone potentially playing soccer with a porcupine."

Brandi says Facebook has turned into a war zone.

"The unfortunate part for him is that his Facebook page has been hacked, people are going in and stealing his pictures. They've posted the boys license plate numbers so that they can be found. They've been banned from several dive shops, up and down the coast, which I think is a little ridiculous and going overboard. People want to cause these boys harm."

As far as seeing the octopus writhing in the arms of the hunters when it was pulled from the water...

"It clearly states, on the Fish and Wildlife website, that it must be caught and brought out of the water in your hands still alive," Brandi says. "It was clearly alive when they took it out of the water. It's become a moral issue, according to the dive community, of whether or not you do that in your local backyard."

The hunter told Bob that he planned to come back the next day and hunt another. Bob says there are only about 7 to 10 octopi living in that designated diving area, so he's worried that they could all be dead within a week. But it is legal to hunt one a day.

"What I would like to see, this area designated as a protected area for octopus," Bob says.

Brandi has no problem with that.

"I think that if people spent more time going to make it illegal to catch octopus, then maybe it would be better served. But to threaten these young boys for not doing anything wrong - I think there's a problem with that."

Here is a statement released by the families of the 19-year-old boys:

A Statement from the Families Regarding the Octopus in Cove 2

On November 1st, 2012 the Northwest Institute for Diving posted pictures and an article about an octopus that was caught in the waters off of Alki, near Seattle, in what is considered Cove 2. This story was posted on their business Facebook page as well as other blog websites. The Facebook post named the divers, as well as posted pictures of their vehicle including the license. This post immediately created a following of dedicated divers and has resulted in a public controversy that has grown to immense proportions and has taken on a life of its own. This story was also picked up and has been reported by the local news media, adding further attention and fueling the public response.

As with most stories that begin and grow in this manner, the facts got lost in translation and the truth was clouded by opinion and judgment of those reporting and those responding. The brunt of this controversy seems to have started when it was alleged that they had caught a female octopus that may or may not have been protecting eggs. This is inaccurate. An observer on the beach made that statement claiming it was a female, but it was unverified. The octopus was actually a male and was subsequently verified by the game warden.

Based on much of the content posted by responders, the bigger issue here seems to be judgment that the young men broke an unspoken and unwritten moral code of divers. These two young men went fishing in their local dive waters. Their intention was to go fishing for an octopus, take it home to filet and cook it to share with friends and family. They choose the local waters at Alki because this location was where they were comfortable and familiar as amateur divers. Considering both young men are only 19 years old, neither one was comfortable enough nor had the experience to go diving in the more open water of the Puget Sound.

They were following the fish and game law; they had obtained a legal fishing license that allowed them to catch one octopus per day. They were even following the rules of how to legally and properly catch an octopus. According to the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife the instructions for fishing for octopus are as follows: Must be caught with hands or instrument which does not penetrate the OCTOPUS, except that octopus taken while angling with hook and line may be retained. The species listed as legal for capture are the Giant Pacific. There is no minimum size, but the license states the daily limit is 1. The fishing season is open year round and all areas of the Puget Sound are open with the exception of Marine Area 12. Marine area 12 is located in Hood Canal.

We, as the families, of these young men have decided to come forward and make a statement regarding these events because of some unfortunate actions of individuals that feel they are championing the cause. We would have never thought that this issue would go national, with our two young sons at the center of the controversy. Since this story has broken, the responses that we are reading on the various websites and blogs, have both of our families frightened and upset. There have been multiple threats of various violence towards the boys and our families. Our personal information has been hacked and posted on Facebook and the internet. The boys have been banned from several dive shops. Their personal information has been posted on the internet.

None of this information getting posted or hacked has a purpose except for those that wish to do harm or be malicious. We would request to the owners of the blogs, the owners of the Facebook's pages to please delete these pages from your sites. This information isn't just about these young men, but can lead others whose intent is to do harm to our families. Our sons are good young men and do not deserve the backlash that this has created. Our families do not deserve to live in fear based on the threats that have been made. Please keep this issue in perspective. This was about a couple of young men that were going fishing for the day. Nothing more. Nothing less. They were not aware they were doing anything wrong.

After experiencing the events that have transpired since the story was first reported, both young men would like to extend sincere apologies for their actions. It was not their intention to do anything wrong or malicious. It was not their intent to be irresponsible or immoral divers. They were simply a couple of young men, which are amateur divers, going fishing. Looking back, if they had known what they know now, they would not have gone diving that day. This was a mistake made from inexperience and unfamiliarity of the culture of diving. It is not a mistake that will be repeated. We would respectfully request that the privacy of our families and the privacy of our son's be respected.

Rachel Belle, Ron and Don Show Reporter
Rachel Belle is a feature contributor and personality on The Ron & Don Show on KIRO Radio (weekdays 3-7pm), and host of Ring My Belle Weekends (Saturdays at 5pm and Sundays at 3pm).
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