Economic Analysis of the Non-Treaty Commercial and Recreational Fisheries in Washington State


Published: December 2008

Revised: March 2012

Pages: 49

Author(s): Prepared for WDFW by TCW Economics With Technical Assistance from The Research Group

Executive Summary

This study was conducted with the express purpose of addressing the request from Governor Gregoire to explore the economic importance of the non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries in the State of Washington. The study is designed to summarize the overall economic benefits of Washington’s non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries for 2006.

Although the study estimates net economic values and economic impacts of both commercial and recreational fisheries, it is not sufficiently comprehensive and the values are not estimated with adequate precision to warrant a comparative analysis of the two fisheries.

Some components of net economic values were not quantified and, in the case of economic impacts, the effects associated with the spending by state resident anglers are fundamentally different from the effects generated by non-resident recreational anglers and by commercial fishers.

Study Conclusions
Ultimately, our findings indicate that commercial and recreational fisheries not only contribute employment and personal income, but also contribute in several other significant ways to Washington’s economy, as well as to its residents’ quality of life.

In terms of economic impacts, commercial and recreational fishing conducted in Washington fisheries directly and indirectly supported an estimated 16,374 jobs and $540 million in personal income in 2006. When viewed in the context of the Washington state economy, these levels of employment and earnings account for about 0.4 percent of total statewide employment and about 0.2 percent of total statewide personal income in 2006.

Recreational fishing generates the larger share of economic impacts, supporting 12,850 jobs or more than three-quarters of the fishing-related jobs in 2006. Of the jobs supported by recreational anglers, state residents accounted for more than 90 percent of the spending that supports these jobs.

While the spending by non-resident anglers contributes to the tourism economy in Washington State, spending by resident anglers serves to direct discretionary consumer spending toward fishing-related goods and services. As a consequence, spending by non-resident anglers plays a more pivotal role in supporting the state economy than does the spending by resident anglers.

The non-treaty commercial fishery in Washington waters also contributes an estimated $38 million in net economic values (net income or profits), allowing commercial fishers to participate in a livelihood that has been passed down from generation to generation.And, recreational fisheries generate an estimated $424 million in net economic values (over and above expenditures) to the estimated 725,000 residents who live and fish in Washington, suggesting that sport fishing substantially contributes to anglers’ quality of life.

Detailed Summary of Finding
Our study focuses specifically on fishing activity in state waters in 2006, and considers two widely used but distinctly different economic measures:

  • Net economic values and
  • Economic impacts

Net economic values measure the net (or surplus) value to commercial and sport anglers who participate in the fisheries. For sport anglers, net economic values measure an angler’s willingness to pay over and above actual out-of-pocket costs to fish. For commercial fishers, net economic values represent the profit (or net income) from fishing. Economic impacts, on the other hand, measure the jobs and personal income that are directly and indirectly supported statewide by sport and commercial fishing activity.

Commercial Fishery
Washington State’s commercial fishing industry is structured around a multi-species fishery. Groundfish, halibut, albacore, salmon, and shellfish are all major species groups important to the industry. In 2006, non-tribal commercial fish landings from Washington fisheries totaled nearly 109.4 million pounds, generating $65.1 million in ex-vessel value (i.e. the price received by commercial fishers for fish landed at the dock) for fish harvesters. Although groundfish produced the greatest share of landings (about 54%), shellfish generated the greatest share of ex-vessel value (63%).

As indicated above, this study focuses on the fisheries in Washington waters only, which represent only one part of a much larger commercial fishing industry in Washington State. But the commercial fishing industry in Washington has other vital components, including harvesting by western Washington tribes; harvesting in distant waters including Alaska, Oregon and Canada; and aquaculture operations.

For a broader analysis of the economics of the commercial fishing industry in Washington, click here.

In terms of regional catch, the Coastal area is by far the largest contributor to commercial fish harvesting in Washington, accounting for 85 percent of total pounds landed and 63 percent of total ex-vessel value. Grays Harbor County-producing $19.3 million in landings from Washington fisheries-is the state’s largest commercial port area, and accounted for nearly 30 percent of the total value of landings from Washington fisheries in 2006. Other port counties with significant shares of commercial harvest values include Whatcom County (21%), King County (9%), Skagit County (7%), and Clallam County (5%).

Seafood processing also contributes significantly to the value of Washington’s commercial fisheries. Including in-state processing, the wholesale value of fishery products caught in Washington waters was an estimated $101 million in 2006. Groundfish accounted for about 61 percent of this value, and shellfish accounted for about 21 percent.

Recreational Fishery
An estimated 824,000 anglers fished (finfishing and shellfishing) in Washington State in 2006. About 88 percent of these anglers were state residents, and 12 percent were nonresidents. State residents fished about 8.5 million days (about 93% of all fishing days in Washington) and nonresidents fished 615,000 days (about 7% of all fishing days).

In addition to finfishing, shellfishing is a popular activity in Washington State, primarily along the Pacific Coast and the shoreline of Puget Sound. Both Dungeness crab harvesting in North Puget Sound waters and clamming for razor clams along the Pacific Coast shoreline are very popular with state residents.

In 2006, an estimated 286,000 anglers sport fished in marine waters in Washington, accounting for 1.5 million saltwater angler days. Salmon was the most popular target species, comprising 52 percent of the saltwater angler days. On about 35 percent of angler days shellfish was the target, and on the remaining 12 percent of days other saltwater species were the major focus.

Fishing for trout was the most popular freshwater fishing activity (48% of all angler days in Washington State), followed by fishing for salmon (23%), steelhead (12%), and black bass (12%). An estimated 538,000 anglers participated in freshwater fishing in Washington State in 2006, accounting for 7.5 million angler days.

Recreational anglers in Washington State spent an estimated $904.8 million in 2006 on fishing-related equipment and trip-related items. Trip-related expenditures, including food, lodging, transportation, and other trip expenses, totaled $354.9 million, and expenditures on fishing-related equipment totaled about $549.9 million.

Suggested citation

TCW Economics. 2008. Economic analysis of the non-treaty commercial and recreational fisheries in Washington State. December 2008. Sacramento, CA. With technical assistance from The Research Group, Corvallis, OR.


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