By SSJ Staff
Washington’s department of fish and wildlife is asking for a fishing license fee increase starting in 2017. At first blush it sounds reasonable. That is until you scratch the surface of the proposal. In many cases the fee increase will be almost double of what anglers are used to paying today. However, for salmon and steelhead anglers it would be a 40 percent increase.
The proposed fee increases will generate $12 million annually, according to the WDFW. To introduce the idea to anglers the department held public hearings throughout the state in August. Information is also available online. The fee increase was met with suspicion, exasperation and resentment. A recent survey conducted by the WDFW reportedly drew over 900 responses and the majority were unfavorable. Many respondents took issue with the department’s unwillingness to disclose how the money would be spent, the drastic rise in fees, and the fact that other user group fees are not being raised. Couple that with dwindling angling opportunities in the state and it’s understandable why anglers are not buying into the proposal.
First, look at the fishing opportunities in the state. This past year’s the Puget Sound salmon fisheries were closed for several months. In the past two decades hatchery production has dropped considerably and there are too many rivers that are closed altogether because of lack of returning salmon and steelhead. These are just a few examples of a poor return on investment.
It is hard to argue that the 40 percent increase in license and tag fees is abrupt. Typically states raise license and tag fees in small increments making it easier to accept. When asked to pay so much more it’s understandable why anglers become frustrated.
In press releases, and letters to conservation groups, the department offered vague descriptions on how the money would be used. Nothing specific was outlined. Also, a major point of contention is that sport fishing is the only group that will see its license and tag fees increased this drastic. For example, much of the commercial fishing industry will see its permit fees either remain as is or increase slightly. Revenue from the Columbia River gillnet fleet will actually decrease under this proposal placing the responsibility of generating revenue on sport anglers. Permits for a resident gillnetter will remain stagnant at only $585 annually and a non-resident gillnetter will see a 35 percent reduction from $890 to $585.
Sport fishing is another story. Currently to fish for salmon in Washington a combo license costs $55.35. That includes freshwater and saltwater. If you were to include a Columbia River Endorsement tag ($8.75) the total cost to fish for salmon and steelhead in the state of Washington is $64.10. Under the proposed fee increase structure it will cost an angler $108 to fish for salmon and steelhead statewide, including the endorsement tag for the Columbia River. That would include a newly implemented catch card for salmon and steelhead ($17 apiece).
Out of state license fees will also increase. An annual non-resident license (angling comb) will go from $124.65 to $144.12 ($19.47 increase) plus $22.50 catch cards for salmon and steelhead. To fish for salmon and steelhead as a non-resident it would cost an angler $166.62. That’s almost $42 more a year and a 25 percent increase. Comparatively, in Oregon it costs a non-resident angler to fish for salmon and steelhead $132.50 annually. And in Alaska, it costs a non-resident $145, not including the mandatory king salmon stamp (ranges from $10 to $100 depending on length of fishing trip). One has to ask is fishing that much better in Washington?
The WDFW is banking on the fee increase taking effect in 2017, but what is either lost on the department or is being ignored is the fact that when license fee increases take place, angler participation drops considerably. A study shows that for every $1 increase in the cost of a state resident annual fishing license, it spurs a 4.7 percent decrease in license sales (Fedler & Sweezy, 1990). A study in New England shows that a 1 percent fee increase resulted in a 2.83 percent decrease in angler participation (Teisl, Boyle & Record, 1999). In 2008 when Maryland increased license fees there was a 15 percent decrease in license sales (Thompson, 2009). It’s safe to assume angler participation in Washington will drop between 1 and 4 percent.
With the ever-present threat of lawsuits, operating hatcheries, staffing, etc., raising fees is understandable. It’s the cost of doing business, so to speak. But the question must be asked: why this much and why not implement the increase over an extended period of time? A bi-annual increase is much more palpable than a 40 percent spike. If nothing else it would not draw near the criticism this proposal has.