Legislation to extend for two additional years the special $8.75 fee to fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and its tributaries got strong support Wednesday and approval by the Senate Natural Resources and Parks Committee.
Senate Bill 5947 would continue the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement through June 30, 2019. Without action by the state Legislature, the fee ends at the end of this month, along with the $1.5 million it generates annually.
The committee voted “do-pass’’ after a hearing in Olympia and moved the measure to the Ways and Means Committee.
Anglers who fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River and many tributaries pay the $8.75 in addition to other, permanent, fishing license fees.
Lawmakers established the Columbia River endorsement in 2009 and extended it last year through June 30, 2017.
The money is used to carry out catch monitoring, permit acquisition, law enforcement and other activities to allow sport fishing under the restrictions of the federal Endangered Species Act, said Curt Gavigan, committee staff member.
“WDFW (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) didn’t have enough money to monitor salmon and steelhead fisheries in Eastern Washington,’’ said Carl Burke, representing the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association. “This is one of the feel-good stories in natural resources.’’
Bill Clarke of Trout Unlimited told the committee that Columbia River fisheries are complicated and the money from the fee has been very successful in financing the necessary monitoring of catch.
“Without monitoring, we have more restrictive fisheries or shut down,’’ said Dave Knutzen, a sport fisherman.
Kelly Cunningham, a deputy assistant director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said without the money the state will not have salmon and steelhead fisheries upstream of McNary Dam on the Columbia River.
Those fisheries generate about 1 million angler days and $87 million to the local economy.
The costs of providing sport fishing and still comply with the Endangered Species Act are adding a growing financial burden to the department, he said.
The money from the endorsement fee will be needed in the foreseeable future, said Cunningham.
“It’s a big deal for the businesses who support those anglers,’’ he added.