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.