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Increased hunting, fishing fees explored for Washington


Salmon fishing guide Dave Grove nets a fall chinook for David Moershel of Spokane while fishing on the Columbia River. (Rich Landers)

Salmon fishing guide Dave Grove nets a fall chinook for David Moershel of Spokane while fishing on the Columbia River. (Rich Landers)

FISHING/HUNTING -- Increased fees for hunting and fishing are on the horizon in Washington.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has been prepping sportsmen for months in meetings with advisory groups.  Expect to pay for the Hunt by Reservation program and higher license fees seem inevitable.

No surprise. Costs are going up for everything.

Here's a closer look at the fishing fees proposals by Al Thomas of The Columbian in Vancouver.

The cost to fish for salmon and steelhead in the Columbia River would more than double under Washington’s draft license fee increases for 2017-19.

Most of the increase would come through charging $17 for both separate salmon and steelhead catch-record cards, which currently are issued free with purchase of a fishing license.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife initiated its “Washington’s Wild Future” program in 2015, which included a series of public meetings around the state to determine the priorities for the agency over the next several years.

The process also involved meetings with advisory committees, legislators and review of thousands of emails, social media posts and online comments.

Identified are a variety of priorities for the department to improve fishing, hunting and protection of the resource, plus a proposal to help pay for it through hunting and fishing license fee increases.

The fee increases would be the first since 2010 and structured so the participants in high-cost programs – such as salmon and steelhead management – pay more.

”A key goal of the proposal is to set fees that more accurately reflect fisheries management costs, including the relatively high cost of managing salmon, steelhead and other fisheries in waters where some fish are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act,” said Jim Unsworth, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Overall, the fishing fee increases would generate about $12 million per year.

Under draft proposals for 2017-19, an annual freshwater fishing license would increase from $29.50 to $34.12 and the Columbia River endorsement would increase from $8.75 to $9.75.

However, the now-free catch record cards would be $17 for salmon, $17 for steelhead, $11.50 for sturgeon and $11.50 for halibut.

What it means for a typical Columbia River angler is today’s cost to fish of $38.25 ($29.50 for a freshwater license and $8.75 for a Columbia River endorsement) would double to $77.87 ($34.12 freshwater license, $9.75 Columbia River endorsement, $17 for salmon catch card and $17 for a steelhead catch card).

“CCA has not yet taken a position on the increase, but our membership is understandably concerned,” said Nello Picinich, executive director for the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington.

He said commercial fishermen need to contribute equally to the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s costs and that the bistate reforms eliminating gillnetting in the mainstem Columbia River need to be implemented fully in 2017.

Proposed commercial fishing license fee increases will be added to the package, likely this week,” said Bruce Botka, a department spokesman.

Liz Hamilton, executive director of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, said her group appreciates the active outreach by the department under Unsworth to ask what sportsmen want.

”We’d all love a Mercedes (lots of improvements), but it’s a question of how we get to the right place,” Hamilton said. “A doubling of the fees is really out of the question. There’s a fair number of dedicated users who’d pay double, but we can’t price families out of fishing. We’ve got to listen and figure out what’s affordable.”

An annual razor clam license would increase from $17.10 to $24.

A three-day razor clam license is proposed to jump from $9.70 to $18.50, a two-pole endorsement from $14.80 to $16.50 and a one-day fishing license from $11.35 to $19.82.

Senior citizens would qualify for a discounted license at age 65, instead of the current age 70.

Hunting licenses are proposed for a 10 percent increase in 2017-2019.

A big-game license, which includes deer, elk, bear and cougar, would increase from $95.50 to $104.85.

Another hunting fee change would include a hunt-by-reservation fee, a modest charge to offset the cost of managing the Hunt by Reservation program, which enables hunters to reserve a space on selected private land.

The migratory bird permit fee is proposed to increase from $17 to $28. This money is used to buy and develop bird habitat.

An administrative penalty would be applied for each species to encourage harvest reporting. Currently, a hunter failing to report across all tag types is assessed a single penalty.

Hunters and fishermen are not the only ones who will be asked to pay more to conserve fish and wildlife.

Washington has funded programs for non-hunted wildlife through the sale of personalized license plates, plus a specialty plate featuring the image of an orca.

But revenue from these sources is expected to fall short of current levels in the 2017-19 budget period by $1.2 million.

The agency will seek $1.2 million from the state’s general fund for 2017-19.

”Obtaining general fund budget increases will be difficult for all agencies next year,” Botka said. “But WDFW delivers programs and services that benefit the entire state, so there is a strong rationale for using general tax dollars.”

Law enforcement and habitat conservation activities that support clean water and a wide range of ecological benefits are enjoyed by all residents, not just sportsmen.

”Some of our responsibilities are not connected to hunting and fishing opportunities,” he said. “So it would not be appropriate to ask hunters and anglers to shoulder the whole funding burden.”

Botka emphasized the proposals are in draft form. There will be public workshops in early August to get feedback.

State agencies have a deadline of Sept. 9 to submit their proposals to the governor and the Office of Financial Management.

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