Department getting set to ask Legislature for fee increases - WDFW looks for ways to make up for general fund deficit

by Fenton Roskelley
The Spokesman-Review


Olympia, WA - You likely will pay more to fish and hunt in Washington state next year.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which held public meetings on its proposals for fishing and hunting license-fee changes the last couple of months, soon will be ready to ask the Legislature to make the changes.

Confronted with a large general fund deficit, the Legislature directed the Fish and Wildlife Commission to come up with recommendations for license changes (read that "license increases") for the fiscal year starting April 1.

The department, which has had to curtail numerous fish and wildlife programs the last few years because it hasn't had money to fund them, desperately needs more money to operate efficiently.

Although relatively few persons attended the public hearings on fee increases, the recommended changes almost certainly will be opposed by some anglers and many businesses when the lawmakers consider license fee-increasing bills that will be introduced in January.

Perhaps the most controversial is the recommendation that the two-day fishing license be increased. The present license costs $6.57, plus the vendor fee. The national average for two days of fishing costs $10.52.

The department is proposing that the two-day license be replaced by a "temporary freshwater and saltwater fishing license."

The license would enable the angler to buy a day license and purchase additional days up to two weeks.

The resident price would be $6 for one day, $9, 2 days; $11.50, 3 days; $13.50, 4 days; $15, 5 days; $16.25, 6 days, $17.25, 7 days, and $30, 14 days. Nonresident fees would be double the resident fees.

Operators of some, probably most, charter boat firms on the Coast don't like the new fee structure. They think the higher fees will discourage potential customers.

A few persons and spokesmen for sportsmen's groups showed up to protest the recommendation that future prices of fishing and hunting licenses be pegged to an inflation index.

The WDFW justified its recommendation by saying that "appreciating license fees annually based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI) will make the license fee more predictable and equitable" for the department.

The average CPI change since 1985 has been 3.19 percent. Changes since 1995 have ranged from 2.21 to 3.85 percent.

Seniors 70 years of age and older have been able to buy freshwater, saltwater and shellfish fishing licenses for $5.48 each. The WDFW is proposing increases in the fees, ranging from a low of $10 to a high of $18 for a saltwater license, a low of $10 and a high of $20 for a freshwater license and a low of $5.70 to a high of $7 for a shellfish license.

The recommendation that seniors be charged more for fishing licenses apparently generated considerable response, most of it negative, from seniors.

If the lawmakers agree to the department's recommendation on wild turkey tags, buyers of the small-game license no longer would receive a free tag. Department officials told people who attended the public meetings that they would like to separate the initial turkey tag from the small-game license and issue it separately. They would like to sell the tag for $18.

Many dedicated turkey hunters support the recommendation. They feel that giving all small game-license buyers a turkey tag has resulted in excessive hunting pressure in prime turkey habitat on land open to the public. Requiring all hunters spend $18 for a tag, they feel, will eliminate hunters who hunt turkeys just because they have a tag.

Fishing-license buyers now receive a "Catch Record Card" for recording salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, halibut and Dungeness crab catches. The department wants the Legislature to permit it to charge a fee for each species.

"Charging a fee for each CRC species endorsement will reduce costs and increase revenue," the department says. "Charging for a CRC will reduce the number of CRCs distributed and limit the number of possible fishers per species. Revenue will be used to pay for the costs of the species estimation process."

The department recommended that the shellfish license fee be increased. Residents now pay $7 for a license and nonresidents pay $20. The agency is presenting three different fee-increase plans.

Department officials are now reviewing testimony presented during the public hearings. They may make some changes in their recommendations before asking the Fish and Wildlife Commission for approval. Then the recommendations will go to the Legislature.

What happens when the lawmakers consider the bill or bills on license changes is anyone's guess. As department officials and some fishermen and hunters know, nearly every senator and house member will be pressured by their constituents to approve or oppose changes.


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