OLYMPIA, Wash. — An attorney who represents fishermen on the
West Coast agreed with a California court decision that could shake
up a planned exemption by the Washington Department of Fish and
The Washington initiative by the WDFW would have raised fees for
residents seeking commercial fishing licenses and lower them for
non-residents. That was before the initiative was challenged by some
out-of-state fishermen citing the Privileges and Immunities
Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
They challenged a ruling made last December by U.S. 9th District
Court of Appeals, which determined that California’s
nonresident-fee differential for several commercial-fishing permits,
licenses and watercraft registrations was constitutional.
“What is surprising is that a state agency, WDFW, would propose
such a blatant exemption,” said Pete Knutson, gillnetter and
co-owner of Loki Fish Company, said in a report
by the Ballard News Tribune. “WDFW needs to scrap their existing
proposal and charge resource users fairly.”
Peter H. Flournoy, an attorney who regularly represents fishers on
the West Coast, told the Northern California Record that these
statements represent the reality and fairness commercial fishers
should be dealing with in terms of fees and regulations.
"These two quotes from the Ballard article are right on,"
he said. "From what we have heard, Washington Fish and Wildlife
had to go back to the drawing board for a number of reasons and are
actually floating a new proposal, although I don’t know the
particulars with regard to in-state and out of state fees."
The Ballard News Tribune report
said WDFW was responding to the earlier California decision in
crafting this policy. The new lawsuit is derailing the department's
plans, but Flournoy said commercial fishers should be happy with the
"I can’t speak for Washington fishermen, or Oregon
fishermen, but they should generally be pleased, depending upon where
they fish on the West Coast," he said.
Flournoy also said legislative issues arise from funding, and
commercial fishers should be aware of this.
"I don’t know what the history has been on the West Coast
for charging out-of-state people higher fees, but as you know from
reading the case, the Supreme Court had never specifically found this
to be okay, although they had certainly laid the ground work for the
9th Circuit decision," Flournoy said. "When I read the
decision, I thought the biggest concern for California fishermen was
the documentation of the $20 million shortfall claimed by [California
Department of Fish and Wildlife] over the expense of 'managing'
California commercial fishing and the income the state derived from
Flournoy said many questions remain in California over the
"This turned out to be the case since the governor in his
most recent budget has suggested increasing landing fees to cover
about one half of this shortfall," Flournoy said. "What
should be questioned carefully is how the [California Department of
Fish and Wildlife] got to this figure. Does it include funding the
Fish and Game Commission, which handles many non-fishing issues such
as hunting licenses and areas, and endangered species? Does it
include the Ocean Protection Council which has been captured by
environmental groups and does much to inhibit commercial fishing?
“Does it include the development of marine protected areas,
which have put many fishermen out of business? Does it include the
insane amount of time that is spent setting up limited entry
fisheries, which also often don’t benefit fishermen? My assumption
is that this is all now public record, although I haven’t had the
opportunity to examine the pleadings, declarations, etc."
According to the Ballard News Tribune report,
fishers are concerned about fees and fairness associated with them.
Some types of commercial fishing uses more resources and residency
has little to do with that. For example, purse seiners use
approximately five times the public resources than gilnetters and
reef netters. Some fishers prefer the Alaskan fee model and
regulations that consider these resource use cases.
The WDFW has announced it will consider drafting new policy after
this recent California case development.