The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is currently working to implement the buy-back proviso approved by the Washington Legislature during the 2022 legislative session. Visit this page for updates as the process develops.
In 2022, the Washington State Legislature provided $14.4 million for a commercial license reduction program to reduce the number of non-treaty Columbia River/Willapa Bay and Columbia River/Grays Harbor salmon gillnet fishing licenses through a voluntary buy-back program.
The program was structured in two stages, round one was conducted from July through October of 2022, and round two took place from December of 2022 through May of 2023.
In round one, inactive license holders were eligible for $25,000 and active license holders were eligible for $90,835 (the active license price was set based on interest). The second round was structured as a reverse auction where license holders could set their own price, with a maximum price of up to $20,000 for inactive licenses and $90,000 for active licenses.
Prior to the license reduction program, there were 240 commercial Columbia River/Willapa Bay and Columbia River/Grays Harbor salmon gillnet fishing licenses. After the program concluded in June of 2023, 67 Washington licenses remain available for use in the fishery.
The Legislature provided direction in subsection b of the proviso to calculate and reserve impacts to wild and Endangered Species Act-listed fish, resulting from licenses retired through the program. Those reserved impacts could then be used for conservation either by allowing those fish to escape mainstem fisheries to spawn or by using the impacts in mark-selective fisheries.
This calculation was completed and made publicly available in late May 2023 and WDFW implemented a reduction in impacts to the commercial Zone 4/5 large mesh gillnet fishery during September 2023. For more information see Director Susewind’s Sept. 13, 2023 statement.
The Legislature also directed the agency to provide recommendations to the legislature on alternative selective commercial fishing gears. This report was delivered to the legislature on Dec. 1, 2022, and can be found in the document list below.
Below is the final budget proviso language included in the 2022 Supplemental Operating Budget passed by the Washington State Legislature and signed by Governor Inslee:
(65) $14,400,000 of the general fund—state appropriation for fiscal year 2023 is provided solely for the department to reduce the number of nontribal commercial gillnet fishing licenses on the Columbia River through a voluntary buy-back program.
(a) Until November 30, 2022, the department may pay up to $25,000 each for licenses that have been inactive since 2019 and up to $120,000 each for licenses that have been active since 2019. After November 30, 2022, the department may pay up to $20,000 each for licenses that have been inactive since 2019 and up to $96,000 each for licenses that have been active since 2019. It is the intent of the legislature that this will be the last appropriation made to buy back licenses for the Columbia River gillnet fishery.
(b) For all licenses purchased, the department shall calculate the reduced impacts to wild and endangered stocks based on the most recent five-year average of harvest and reserve those impacts for conservation through increased wild salmonid escapement or mark selective fisheries capable of harvesting surplus hatchery-reared salmon where needed to meet federal genetic protection requirements for wild salmon populations in a manner consistent with state-tribal fishery management agreements.
(c) The department must make recommendations to the legislature for any necessary changes in statute, regulations, or program funding levels to transition lower Columbia River mainstem gillnet fisheries to alternative, selective fishing gears, including pound nets or other gears capable of benefitting wild salmon conservation through mark-selective harvest practices. The recommendation must be submitted to the appropriate committees of the legislature by December 1, 2022.
- Program overview
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Subsection C Report to the Legislature: Columbia River Commercial Fisheries and Gear
- Calculating Impacts from Washington's 2022 Columbia River Commercial Gillnet License Buyback (Subsection b) (revised June 14, 2023)
- Calculating Impacts from Washington's 2022 Columbia River Commercial Gillnet License Buyback (Subsection b) (May 30, 2023)
- WDFW Director's statement on Columbia River fall commercial fisheries (Sept. 13, 2023)
The following is preliminary information about participation in the Washington Columbia River Commercial Salmon Gillnet License Buyback Program, as of June 30, 2023. In Washington we have two licenses that allow commercial fishers to gillnet Columbia River salmon: Columbia River/Willapa Bay and Columbia River/Grays Harbor.
The first table shows the total number, number active, and number retired (purchased by the state through this program) and number remaining for both license types in Washington. The second table is a subset of the first and focuses on those licenses that had landings in the Columbia River from 2017-2021.
|Total licenses in the fishery in 2022||240|
|Total active licenses||179|
|Total active licenses retired||154|
|Active retired: Willapa Bay||116|
|Active retired: Grays Harbor||38|
|Total inactive licenses||61|
|Total inactive licenses retired||18|
|Inactive retired: Willapa Bay||13|
|Inactive retired: Grays Harbor||5|
|Total licenses retired||172|
|Total licenses that lapsed in 2022 (didn't participate in buyback and didn't renew)||1|
|Total licenses remaining||67|
|Total active and inactive licenses with Columbia River landings||
|Active licenses with Columbia River landings|
|Total (SAFE and mainstem)||91|
|Retired: Willapa Bay||62|
|Retired: Grays Harbor||16|
|Inactive licenses with CR landings|
|Retired (all Willapa Bay)||3|