Sustainable fisheries, sustainable economies

Implementing a license buyback program in the Columbia River commercial fleet

Columbia River commercial fisherman
Columbia River commercial fisherman

WDFW is requesting $1 million in the 2021–23 Biennium to fund the first phase of a license reduction program for the Columbia River commercial fishery

To stabilize and ensure the future health of this important fishery, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is requesting $1 million to purchase back licenses from Columbia River commercial operators.

  • License reduction programs have been used in various fisheries around the U.S. to “right size” the number of licenses to the available harvest. Similar to other programs, the intent in the Columbia River fishery is to rebalance licenses in order to improve the operational efficiency and economic viability of the Columbia River commercial salmon fishery and implement a key deliverable of Fish & Wildlife Commission Policy 3620.
  • Because Columbia River, Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor licenses are linked all three fisheries will benefit from this license reduction work.
  • The program will support license holders and commercial fishing communities located in some of the most economically depressed counties in Washington.

How will license reduction support Columbia River fisheries?

Salmon fisheries play an integral part of the state’s marine conservation and salmon recovery strategies by targeting and removing hatchery fish before they reach spawning grounds and reducing competition for wild fish using those same spawning grounds.

  • Through a data-driven approach, license reduction will ultimately create a more streamlined fleet, providing remaining fishers with more consistent opportunity, and support the goal of Commission Policy C-3620 of increasing economic viability and stability in the fishery.
  • License reduction will provide managers with increased certainty about expected effort levels. This improves pre-season planning and in-season management capabilities, allowing for more predictable opportunity in the fishery. License reduction will support the durability of the fleet under variable resource conditions.

Strategic, deliberate, and phased approach

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Phase 1 makes tangible progress while aligning with the Commission’s process

  • Initiating Phase 1 in 2021 will allow interested fishers to exit the fishery while the agency works with Oregon to review the CR Policy and develop future phases of the program.
  • The program would be voluntary and all Columbia River, Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor license holders would be eligible to participate.
  • The goal is to purchase about 40 percent of existing licenses (up to 100).

Future Phases would be undertaken through a joint-state program with Oregon

  • WDFW’s goal is to partner with Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife and the commercial fishers in developing future phases in order to remove both Washington and Oregon licenses and optimize the number of fishers on the Columbia River.
  • WDFW is exploring federal disaster funds, private financing, grant funding, and industry funding for future phases of the program.

Developing a long-term vision for a modernized Columbia River Commercial fishery

The Columbia River commercial fishery provides Washington State residents with local, sustainably caught seafood and plays an important role in the local and state economy, supporting businesses throughout the supply chain including processors, buyers, restaurants, ports and other maritime-related businesses.

  • Creating a healthy, modern and viable fishery on the lower Columbia River will ensure the fishery’s social, economic and ecological contributions to the local economies of southwest Washington endure into the future.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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