Fishing in the Columbia will cost anglers extra

Salmon and steelhead anglers in the Columbia River and select tributaries will be paying an extra $7.50 a year in state fishing license fees through mid-2016, thanks to a bill adopted on the next-to-last day of the legislative session.

Substitute Senate Bill 5421 creates a "pilot program" beginning in January to increase selective recreational fishing in the Columbia between Rocky Point and Chief Joseph Dam.

Selective fishing is the buzzword for keeping fin-clipped, hatchery-origin salmon and steelhead, while releasing wild fish.

Rocky Point is roughly opposite Tongue Point in Oregon.

Chief Joseph Dam is near Bridgeport in northeast Washington.

It is estimated the fee will generate $1.8 million in the 2009-11 biennium, $1.98 million in 2011-13 and $2.07 million in 2013-15.

Tom Davis, legislative liaison for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said it is unclear, but he believes the $7.50 charge will begin Jan. 1.

He said the fee will provide money to pay for scientific monitoring, data collection and evaluation, reporting and enforcement required for such fisheries under the federal Endangered Species Act.

"Last year, we had a fishery in the Snake River that could have been in a larger area and more time if we'd have had the monitoring resources," Davis said. "Some of this monitoring is labor intensive."

Anyone age 15 and older fishing in the Columbia, and tributaries to be designated by Sept. 1, will need to pay the fee by Jan. 1.

The money will pay for an estimated eight employees in 2010 and 2011 and 10 employees in 2011 through 2015, according to the fiscal note for the bill.

An annual freshwater fishing license costs $21.90. An additional $7.50 is a 34 percent increase.

Ridgefield's Ed Wickersham, Washington government relations committee chairman for the Coastal Conservation Association, said his group backs the fee.

"We were concerned the department would lose the funding needed for conservation and recovery of our fish runs," he said. "If this money is spent to benefit selective, recreational fisheries, we're philosophically in favor."

An advisory board of six to 10 members members will be created to counsel the Department of Fish and Wildlife in spending of the money.

By December of 2014, the advisory board will review the program and make a recommendation if it should continue. Otherwise, the act expires on June 30, 2016.

A Department of Fish and Wildlife staff report has identified existing and potential new fisheries that might be possible due to the increased monitoring from the fee.

In the Columbia downstream of the Snake River, those include the ongoing spring chinook, steelhead and coho fisheries, plus switching summer and fall chinook fishing to selective seasons.

Selective fisheries result in longer seasons because releasing wild salmon makes Endangered Species Act allocations on those fish go further.