Hunting, fishing license fee increase legislation introduced

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Legislation was introduced Thursday for the first across-the-board increase in Washington hunting and fishing license fees in 14 years.

House Bill 1387 would result in an increase in revenue from hunting licenses of 7.3 percent, 12.6 percent from sport-fishing licenses and 51.4 percent from commercial licenses.

Rep. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen, and Rep. Bruce Chandler, R-Granger, are the prime sponsors. The measure was introduced at the request of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, is expected to introduce a companion measure in the Senate today.

"This legislation is our top priority for this legislative session,'' said Phil Anderson, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "Its outcome will greatly determine this department's ability to maintain fishing and hunting opportunities and move forward with conservation efforts around the state.'' 

A resident freshwater fishing license would jump from $26 to $29.50 (13 percent) and a combination freshwater-saltwater-shellfish resident license from $48.20 to $54.25 (13 percent).

The Columbia River salmon-steelhead endorsement stays at $8.75, although there is a 10-cent increase in catch record cards from $12.50 to $12.60.

An elk license would increase 26 percent from $45.20 to $57, while a deer license would decrease 1 percent from $45.20 to $44.90.

Craig Bartlett of the Department of Fish and Wildlife in Olympia said agency is trying to better link license fees to the costs of managing the respective programs.

For example, a license for moose, sheep or mountain goats would increase from $122 to $332, yet a Western Washington pheasant license would drop from $92 to $84.50.

A salmon gillnet license would increase from $480 currently to $585 under the legislation.

The department is facing a $10 million to $20 million shortfall in state General Fund money plus about a $10 million reduction in the state Wildlife Account, which mostly comes from license revenue, in the 2011-13 budget cycle.

The agency has cut $30 million to $40 million to balance its $348 million budget in the 2009-11 cycle. It shed 110 positions to leave the agency at about 1,400 employees, most of whom take 10 unpaid furlough days.

Local reaction to the proposed legislation is mixed.

"Those increases are legitimate,'' said Larry Snyder, president of Vancouver Wildlife League. "There's no reason they (the department) shouldn't get those increases. We'll be monitoring our legislators to watch how they vote.''

Wildlife League members are sour about the high fees Oregon charges non-residents to fish and would like to see Washington raise the amount out-of-staters pay, Snyder added.

Ed Wickersham of Ridgefield, governmental affairs chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington, said his group, while not completely opposed to the fee increases, feels the department should better recognize the value of recreational fishing.

"Where possible, they should increase fishing opportunities for anglers,'' he said. "That would generate additional income for the agency through more license sales and economic benefit to our communities.''

A 2008 economic analysis indicated 92 percent of the net economic value and 85 percent of the fishing-related jobs in Washington come from sport fishing, Wickersham said.

"We are paying a disproportionate amount of the increase while the commercial fisheries either takes the bulk of the resource, like crab, or constrains what could be much more robust sport fisheries like Columbia River spring, summer and fall chinook,'' he said. "We pay more and continue to receive less.''

Commercial fishing pays only a tiny amount of the funding needed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, he added.

"Yet budget cuts affecting the commercial sector are conspicuously absent,'' Wickersham said.

Jim Wells of Salmon For All, an Astoria-based commercial group, said his association's Washington members are "aware of the proposed increases and didn't put up a big stink.''

Wells said about 60 percent of the Columbia River gillnetters are licensed in Oregon. He said his Oregon fees increased starting in 2009 from $325 annually to $511.

"Our guys feel they get less opportunity for more fees, but that's the same thing everyone is saying,'' Wells said.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said her group has not taken a position on the proposed increase.

Oregon increased fees effective 2010 and some anglers decided to not fish, she said.

"Oregon anglers are hopping mad over pay more-get less,'' Hamilton said. "We're nervous about anything that could decrease our customer base.''

HB 1387 has been referred to the House General Government Appropriations & Oversight Committee. A hearing on the bill has not been scheduled yet.

License type Current revenue Proposed revenue Percentage change

Commercial $1,100,000 $1,635,000 51.4%

Fishing $22,233,604 $25,032,998 12.6%

Hunting $15,115,569 $16,222,388 7.3%