WDFW’s Fee Increase Proposal Gets Public Hearing Today

Proposed increases on Washington fishing and hunting licenses come up for a public hearing today in Olympia amongst angst over reduced angling opportunities the past few years, worry about this coming season and how the fee hike could affect fishing equipment sales even more.

“Most acknowledge that the department needs more money and the industry needs a healthy WDFW. But as the industry is acutely aware of, we are seeing dramatic drops in participation and corresponding drops in sales of boats, motors trailers and other durable goods,” reads an alert from the Northwest Sportfishing industry Association to its members to attend the hearing before the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in early afternoon.

That’s been a result of poor salmon returns for much of Washington outside the Columbia River the past two years and difficulties setting seasons for those fish in Puget Sound.

“Our customers didn’t purchase licenses and participation plummeted. Tackle and boat sales dropped to record low levels. The company I work for saw sales drop anywhere from 18 percent to 45 percent in the fishing and marine categories. Business saw lost sales that totaled into the millions,” writes Gabe Miller, the fishing and marine sales director for Sportco and Outdoor Emporium, a major Northwest Sportsman advertiser, in an opinion piece in The Olympian this morning.

SPORTCO AND OUTDOOR EMPORIUM’S GABE MILLER SPEAKS DURING A 2014 HEARING ON STEELHEAD LAWSUITS. (TVW)

NSIA says “uncertainty” over how this year’s North of Falcon salmon-season-setting negotiations will play out, and Oregon’s recent backpedaling on Columbia River fishery reforms “is killing the industry” and is urging its members to speak today about how all of it is affecting their businesses.

The Coastal Conservation Assocation of Washington is also asking anglers to attend, and Puget Sound Anglers put out an alert that says they can’t support the current bill, HB 1647 — which would raise the price to fish for salmon and steelhead in salt- and freshwaters and the Columbia, use a second rod, as well as crab in Puget Sound, from $87.65 to $111.45 — but that they are willing to work on a substitute as long as key concerns are addressed and there’s more certainty about what the benefits for anglers would be.

However, there are some who do support the current bill. Yesterday the Wild Steelhead Coalition worried that without additional revenue WDFW won’t be able to reopen the Skagit River spring catch-and-release steelhead fishery next year.

The bill also includes a 10 percent jump in the cost of hunting licenses.

WDFW argues it needs the money to keep up with inflation since the last increase in 2011 as well as to be able to offer increased sporting opportunities.

Arguments for and against will be heard starting at 1:30 p.m. in Hearing Room B of the John L O’Brien building.  The hearing will be broadcast live on TVW.

If a bill is passed, any new fees would take effect 90 days after the legislative session is adjourned, or July 22 if lawmakers wrap up business on schedule.

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