Tomorrow, Thursday, February 9th at 1:30 p.m. there will be a hearing in Olympia about an important proposal to increase revenue for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), including through modest license fee increases.
Anglers and fish advocates should consider attending and speaking up on behalf of House Bill 1647, which would increase annual combination fishing licenses by approximately $10 to just shy of $65, as well as add a new $17 charge for salmon and steelhead catch cards.
This would put the total for Washington sportfishing opportunities (with catch cards and the Columbia River Endorsement) at roughly $100. While this sum may seem like a lot, it’s about the same as gas in the truck for one trip around the Olympic Peninsula. And it’s hardly more than what some ski resorts are charging for a lift ticket this winter. The $27 increase is about the same as the cost of one case of IPAs for steelhead camp (or slightly more than a thirty rack of Busch, your call). We believe this is a reasonable increase, and our fish, wildlife, and those who steward them are worth the investment.
Why are we asking you to speak up on behalf of fee increases and increased revenue for WDFW? Well, first let us acknowledge that this is complicated.
Washington anglers know that these are not the best of times. Despite promising signs of a comeback on some Puget Sound streams, wild steelhead runs on the Olympic Peninsula and in Grays Harbor watersheds continue to decline. In much of our state, salmon returns have been stark in recent years, with a frustrating reduction in angler opportunities accompanying them. Wild steelhead returns and steelhead fishing in the Snake and upper Columbia tributaries followed a similar pattern in 2016. While our state continues to offer some incredibly diverse and abundant fisheries, quality and crowding are increasing issues. We absolutely understand that this is a tough time for the state to ask for more money from sportsmen.
But let us be clear: it can get worse. And some things are getting better, but progress will be compromised without increased revenue for the Department. Let’s start with the example of the Skagit.
The Skagit River is the bright spot in Steelhead Country. With recent returns pushing 9,000 wild fish and trending upwards, a management plan for late winter and early spring catch and release wild steelhead fisheries (and some managed tribal harvest) has been submitted to federal agencies for review. If approved, these fisheries, which are widely desired by Washington’s anglers for both direct fishing opportunity and as a chance to divert pressure from the coastal rivers, could open as soon as early 2018. But without increased funding, it might never happen.
Reopening a three-month fishery on more than 50 miles of river takes money: funding for enforcement staff, boats, trucks and gas, funding for spawning surveys, creel (or encounter) checks, co-management meetings, and much more. The same is true of the wild steelhead recovery work required under Washington’s Statewide Steelhead Management Plan, much of which has been long delayed due to existing budget and capacity issues at the Department.
WDFW makes the critical need for increased revenue clear on their Wild Future Initiative webpages, the online home for their comprehensive legislative package (including the fee increase through HB 1647) that was developed over the course of 18 months and includes input from multiple public and stakeholder listening sessions:
“Maintaining existing fisheries means something different now than it has in previous biennia. In the past, maintaining fisheries has meant level funding. Today, it means something very different. Increased costs associated with legislative actions and costs associated with ESA permitting have created a significant funding gap.”
Puget Sound fisheries management, including Harvest Management Plans, Endangered Species Act Coverage, and fisheries monitoring are directly referenced in the Department’s “What’s At Risk” information regarding revenue needs. To assume a new Skagit wild steelhead fishery is not on the chopping block if budgets are short is optimistic at best and naïve at worst.
Puget Sound marine fisheries, ocean salmon treaty monitoring, Columbia River fisheries, endangered salmonid recovery work, fish and wildlife law enforcement, even the development of a much-needed mobile catch reporting app; all of these things are on anglers’ and WDFW’s wish lists and could also be sidelined if House Bill 1647 and the Department’s General Fund revenue requests don’t come through.
Overall, WDFW is requesting a $60 million package from the Legislature, with the 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 sportsmen, local communities, and the state as a whole. However, the license fee increases are an important component, especially for securing new fishing opportunity, and even more so with the General Fund request at-risk during this contentious legislative session focused on other priorities. WDFW is also proposing an across-the-board 10 percent increase to hunting licenses.
Yes, the fishing might be tough these days. But as anglers (and hunters) we have a responsibility to help fund the management and conservation of our state’s fish and wildlife. For the Skagit wild steelhead fishery, for continued wild steelhead recovery work in our state, and for all the other opportunities and conservation efforts we prize, it’s worth the extra thirty bucks. Support HB 1647.
Those wishing to voice public testimony, or submit written testimony, should follow instructions from committee staff to sign-up to speak or submit written comments immediately before the meeting begins. Staff and sign-up sheets are generally available at a table outside the room door. Additionally, emailing supportive comments to the committee chair Rep. Brian Blake (Brian.Blake@leg.wa.gov) and other committee members is helpful.
Comments can also be submitted to bill sponsors online here: https://app.leg.wa.gov/pbc/bill//1647.