You’ll need to buy a license to fish for salmon, steelhead, sturgeon and halibut as well as harvest clams, oysters and other shellfish on Washington’s June 10-11 Free Fishing Weekend, making the annual once-a-year event not so free anymore.
The change was passed unanimously by the Fish and Wildlife Commission last July. Trout, bass, lingcod, kokanee, rockfish, shad, walleye and all other species remain open for fishing by the general citizenry sans a state license.
“Free Fishing Weekend can’t be as ‘free’ as it has been in the past,” stated WDFW’s Kirt Hughes in an agency press release explaining the changes earlier this month. “We have to balance opportunity with conservation, and Free Fishing Weekend was presenting challenges for certain species.”
Part of the issue was that more than half the time over the past two decades, that weekend lined up with some of the year’s lowest tides, attracting huge turnouts to shellfish beaches, Hughes described to the commission last year. In one case the state’s entire intertidal clam share was dug out of a Hood Canal beach in just two days, he said.
There were also parking, public safety and trespassing issues and regulation and overlimits violations to deal with.
WDFW also mentions that some free weekend participants were harvesting species such as salmon or halibut without the required catch card, “leading to inaccurate catch reporting” – a touchy subject with tribal comanagers – and creating “challenges to enforcement.”
There was very little public feedback on WDFW’s proposal to limit Free Fishing Weekend to a narrower slate of species that don’t have the comanagement, conservation or ESA implications of the others. One comment did state that “having more confusing regulations during the Free Fishing Weekend will only discourage more people from entering or re-entering the field.” Another said, “When it is FREE, please let it really be Free. Free of new rules, fines, citations, this limits that limits, new guidelines and regulations.”
Nobody likes to pay for something that they’ve received for free – perhaps why WDFW’s smelt license bid in this year’s legislature failed – but with Washington fisheries seemingly becoming more constrained overall, it’s also the price of doing business, as regular anglers and shellfishers will know.