Prosecutors: Local restaurants unknowingly sold stolen shellfish

SEATTLE -- Investigators say some of Seattle's top seafood restaurants and markets may have unwittingly sold stolen oysters and clams to customers.

Now the shellfish producer charged with trafficking stolen property is preparing to stand trial.

Oysters are as good as gold at Elliott's Oyster House, and the restaurant sells millions a year. But a sting operation revealed something fishy about one of chef Robert Spaulding's former shellfish suppliers.

"There's dishonesty in all businesses, and unfortunately it got into the shellfish industry," Spaulding said.

The restaurant is among three dozen businesses, including the Brooklyn, the Herbfarm and Barclay Seafood, that investigators say unknowingly received stolen or uncertified shellfish from G & R Seafood out of Quilcene.

Prosecutors claim the owner of G & R got his employees to illegally harvest shellfish at night from private and state-owned beaches. He then allegedly sold the product to restaurants, seafood markets and wholesalers all around Seattle.

"Washington state has one of, if not the safest oyster harvesting industries in the world, and when people don't follow the rules it puts people at risk," Spaulding said.

Spaulding said his team follows stringent standards, even testing their oysters independently for contaminants. G & R didn't raise any red flags.

"I ate quite a few myself," Spaudling said.

G & R owner Rodney Clark is accused of stealing and trafficking more than $700,000 worth of clams and oysters from beaches in Kitsap and Jefferson counties between 2009 and 2010.

"We're all affected by one bad oyster farmer," said Kevin Riley.

Riley is an oyster farmer who delivers to some of the same restaurants as G & R. He said when one person poaches it can sicken customers and taint harvesters

"It just makes it look like we're all doing it wrong, when we're all doing it right and one guy is doing it wrong for profit," he said.

Prosecutors say several of Clark's employees have already pleaded guilty to unlawful trafficking of shellfish. If convicted, Clark could face up to seven years in prison.