WDFW is mulling a license fee increase that would raise $26 million to cover rising costs and maintain and expand certain fishing and hunting opportunities, but also require anglers to begin paying for their catch record cards.
The proposal is still in the early stages of development and must first be approved by state lawmakers before it can be implemented, but if passed in next year’s legislative session, it would be the first major hike since 2010mid-2011.
“Since then, inflation has caught up to us and we need to rightsize our budget,” said Raquelle Crosier, the agency’s legislative liaison, as she briefed the Fish and Wildlife Commission earlier this month.
The proposal is beginning to catch the eyes of skeptical anglers who are discussing it on Washington F.I.S.H. on Facebook.
Overall, WDFW is considering requesting a $60 million package from the Legislature, with a majority of that coming from General Fund tax dollars for things like more enforcement officers, habitat projects and fishing and hunting opportunities — things that benefit local communities and the state as a whole.
But it is the license hikes that will draw the most scrutiny from the state’s sportsmen and present a tall order for WDFW in the face of this summer’s salmon fisheries and other contentious issues.
Here are WDFW’s current proposals:
Combo fishing licenses would increase from $55.35 to $64.92;
Freshwater-only licenses would increase from $29.50 to $34.12;
Shellfish/seaweed licenses would increase from $17.40 to $26.20;
Razor clam licenses would increase from $14.10 to $17.10.
A Columbia River endorsement would be a buck more, the two-pole permit would go up by almost two dollars.
Not huge though not insubstantial either, but the big ticket item is something that has otherwise been gratis with our fishing licenses.
“The major increase is actually going to be through the …. introduction of charging for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon catch record cards,” Crosier said.
Those would go from free to $11.50 for sturgeon and Puget Sound halibut punch cards and $0.00 to $17 for salmon and steelhead cards.
Sticker shock, for sure, but also a reflection that those species require more management and oversight than, say, stocker trout or largemouth bass in lakes.
Under the proposal, a typical Washington salmon and steelhead angler who fishes salt- and freshwaters would end up paying nearly $100, what with the increase to their combo license plus having to buy the separate punchcards for both species.
WDFW is also proposing an across-the-board 10 percent increase to hunting licenses.
Nonresident licenses would also go up and commercial fees are also being looked at.
The $26 million would go to cover a $7 million shortfall from inflation, maintaining and expanding salmon and steelhead fisheries, improved hatchery maintenance, protecting habitat, and improving hunter access and opportunities.
It will be a tough sell for the agency, and Crosier acknowledged as much, but said the overall $60 million package was “doable” with support from WDFW’s customers and the public.
During the meeting, one Fish and Wildlife Commission member voiced caution.
“I’m not saying it’s wrong, but it’s really different than the last few years,” Miranda Wecker of Naselle said.
She said WDFW had been “extremely modest” in its post-Great Recession requests over the past half decade, “not asking for the moon when the climate is not right.”
The package comes out of Director Jim Unsworth’s Washington’s Wild Future initiative, a series of listening sessions around the state that identified Washington residents’ concerns, wants and needs as they pertain to the outdoors.
Defending the proposal before the commission, he said that everyone remembers a time when licenses were cheaper, but that fees come with recreating outdoors.
“If you decide you’re going to be a family that skis, it’s a big expense to do that. If you’re going to be a family that plays golf, it’s going to be a big expense to do that. If you’re a family whose form of recreation is hunting and fishing, it’s pretty expensive to do that,” Unsworth said.
“I expect some pushback,” he acknowledged. “We saw that with the game management advisory group the other day a little bit, but after we had good conversations with them, they all understand that it’s expensive to operate the kind of statewide program we do and produce the opportunities we do around the state.”
He told the commission about the squeals of delight from his grandsons on a recent trout fishing trip on a nearby lake.
“For me, I knew how much that cost because I’m so close to the program and it was worth every penny of it when I thought about what a great afternoon I had with my grandsons and how that’s going to stick in their minds the rest of their lives,” he said.
Crosier, the legislative liaison, said the proposals would keep Washington license fees in line with nearby states and be cheaper than Oregon’s.
Unsworth said he was looking forward to talking to sportsmen about supporting the agency in its bid.
WDFW will hold regional outreach meetings in early August and then send the governor’s office its legislation request in September. During fall it will lobby lawmakers and constituents.
Crossier said that in meetings with lawmakers and their aides, it was clear that it would be helpful for WDFW to fill up hearings with supporters.
Editor’s note: Based on a WDFW staff briefing of the Fish and Wildife Commission June 10, this post originally stated that if passed, this would be the first major license fee hike since 2010. That appears to be inaccurate.
An August 2011 agency press release notes that the legislature that year had passed the “first general recreational license fee increase in more than a decade” and which went into affect Sept. 1, 2011.