Editorial | Recreational License Fees

The WDFW has requested a significant increase in recreational license fees for 2018 and beyond. They’ve produced a catchy Wild Future PowerPoint and lots of documentation about how all these fee increases will be used to improve and enhance fisheries, research, hatcheries, etc. But it’s a difficult sell, and they know it.

It’s not easy to accept an increase when opportunity for recreational fishers continues to decline. On top of that, recreational fishing license fees are already the dominant source of funding for the department, and this fee increase will only exaggerate that. So the easy thing to do would be to stomp our feet and say “Hell NO! We won’t support this or any fee increase!!!” But we’re not doing that, nor do we think you should…  (hint: we’re not supporting it just yet either, read on!)

To start with, there are some compelling reasons to support this fee increase, let’s talk about them…

First, in simple terms we still believe strongly that our fishing license is a great value for the money. When a year of access to the State’s fisheries costs less than a couple tanks of gas, or a weekend ski-lift-ticket, we find it hard to claim it’s outrageously priced. Hatcheries and enforcement cost real money — and our license even lets us bring home an occasional family dinner while pursuing our favorite recreation. When you add in free kids licenses and discounts for seniors, we don’t feel the price of the license is unjustified on its own.

Second, we believe that our financial support for the department is our best (perhaps only) way to ensure we have long-term opportunity to go fishing. If the department falters as a result of budget cuts, we’ll see hatcheries close, enforcement reduced, and opportunities lost. That will trigger a spiral as less licenses are purchased, leading to still more closures–a situation going from bad to worse. Conversely, as our share of department revenues grow, we will continue to strengthen our case for increased allocation and opportunity. On balance, we believe it’s in our collective best interests to support those who support resource.

But here’s the rub–even with the clear reasons above, we can’t support the increase as it stands today… Our reason is simple: We are unwilling to continue, and certainly won’t increase, our subsidy of the State’s commercial fishermen. It is time for these subsidies to end. We can see at least two clear paths to winning our support for this fee increase…

OPTION 1: As part of this package, to increase commercial license fees such that department revenues from the user groups are proportional with the allocation of catch between recreational and commercial user groups. This would require a dramatic increase in commercial license fees–but would bring them into alignment with the actual underlying costs of the business they’ve selected. If the economic analysis is to be complete, it should include sales taxes not only from commercial landings, but also from recreational fishing tackle and vessel sales.

OPTION 2: As an alternative, amend the fee increase package to explicitly set aside a significant portion of the additional revenues to buy back commercial Salmon licenses1 each year, and to permanently transfer catch allocation to recreational fishing. As recreational fishing is generally able to harvest hatchery fish with less impact on threatened and endangered fish, this would be not only economically beneficial to the state, it would be a significant boost for our species of concern. Those who make the argument that this will meaningfully impact the retail market for salmon, we simply say look at the statewide market and that’s clearly false.

Make no mistake, we stand ready to be strong supporters of a fee increase. But increasing our license fees to continue to provide welfare to the State’s commercial fishermen doesn’t pass muster with us.


1Among the many details to work out, we’d expect license purchase price to be have a moderate fixed price plus a variable portion tied to the last ~5 years of success rate the fisher holding the license. Catch allocation transfer should reflect the portion of the license value purchased vs total fleet license value using the same purchase pricing formula.

7 Comments on "Editorial | Recreational License Fees"

  1. untill you find a way to control the native fishery [snip -Ed] in Washington rivers it doesnt mater how much the fees go up or how they are allocated.

  2. “We”? Hey Ed, who are we? I don’t support their increase at all. I don’t work for the state but I have to work with people from this state agency all the time and am constantly amazed they actually accomplish anything of value. Really, what have they accomplished? Enforcement is a fucking joke. Try finding someone to talk to in a weekend when you’re watching illegal fishing take place and guys hauling in rockfish and putting one after another in their cooler. Or a boat full of Russians illegally spear fishing a protected area and boating illegal lingcod. I could go all day about this agency and why we shouldn’t have an increase and how they should have some better practices and re allocation of their budgets.

    • Tom, totally understand your frustration, and you are not alone in your concerns about under-enforcement–it’s one of if not the topmost requests made by the public — to increase enforcement. Alas increased enforcement is a cost, which gets right back to funding as a critical issue. We are the editors here at Tidal exchange, it’s both titled “Editorial” and signed -Ed for that reason. Again, appreciate the comments.

  3. Go pound sand so either threaten with a loss of fishing or take it up the ass and give in to the tribes and commercial guys, last time I checked state don’t own the fish, hell they can’t even get on honest Indian count on fish let alone manage anything else…what a joke I’ll just fish without out a license

    • What you’re advocating in the last sentence is both illegal and much more likely to hurt recreational fishing opportunity than to help it. We’ve approved your comments because the community anger is an important part of this story–but do not mistake that as support for unlicensed fishing.

  4. I agree that a (reasonable) increase in fees can be supported. However, the burden of economic solvency for the Department has for too long been on the backs of the Recreational Fishermen. Your thoughts on increasing the commercials fees is admirable, but just as we’ve seen in our push to open the NOF meetings, the State chooses to ignore the non-tribal stakeholders demandsl, and does so while giving us the one finger salute. The State has shown time and time again, they view the recreational fishermen as a source of money and nothing more!

  5. Fee increases…. Pure Bullshit. I’m paying for hatchery fish that I cant fish for, give me a break. Until the WDFW comes out and makes the Commies pay for there share, and stops the other commies (Alaska & Canada) from intercepting our fish, then WDFW can pound sand. Just another example of ineptitude on WDFW.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.