WDFW's Inland Fisheries Policies Advisory Group (IFPAG), which consists of 15 people from around the state who represent fishing clubs, resorts and outdoor businesses, outdoor media, and other
fishing-related interests, met in Cle Elum yesterday. The meeting was attended by WDFW staff including Jim Scott (Fish Program Assistant Director), Craig Burley (Fish Management Division Director),
Bruce Bolding (Warmwater Fish Program Manager), Chris Donley (Inland Fish Program Manager), and John Whalen (Region 1 Fish Program Manager). IFPAG members are appointed by the WDFW Director to
two-year terms, and I've represented Washington's tiger muskie anglers on IFPAG for several years now.
Topics at yesterday's meeting included WDFW's strategic initiatives to promote fishing to boost license sales, Lake Roosevelt walleye, high lakes stocking, public access, and changes to fishing
regulations; but I'll only discuss topics of interest to muskie anglers and muskie clubs here.
WDFW and the Kalispell Tribe are working together to reduce the northern pike population in the Pend Oreilles River. According to WDFW, "Northern pike numbers in the Box Canyon portion of the Pend
Oreille River gew exponentially between 2004 and 2010, such that by 2011 the population was at a level which was unsustainable and inconsistent with WDFW conservation goals for vulnerable native
species of trout, other game fish, and non-game fish. In addition, WDFW and KNRD* had growing concerns regarding downstream entrainment of northern pike into the Columbia River system and illegal
introductions into adjacent waters." (From a WDFW handout distributed to IFPAG meeting attendees.) (* Kalispell Natural Resources Department)
George Allen, IFPAG member and president of the Spokane Walleye Club, commented that walleye anglers are catching 4-5 lb. pike "daily" at Kettle Falls and in the Spokane River. John Whalen said
northern pike have gotten into Fish, Liberty, and Newman lakes in the Spokane area from illegal introductions. Bruce Bolding mentioned Fish Lake is slated for "rehabilitation" (i.e., rotenone
treatment) this fall to get rid of the pike and other species, then will be stocked with trout.
Whalen gave a talk on the POR "northern pike suppression" program. WDFW doesn't believe pike can be eradicated from POR but hopes to reduce their numbers to 2004 levels (i.e., by 87% from 2011
levels) using a "three-pronged approach" of angler harvest, fishing derbies, and mechanical removal (primarily gillnetting during spring spawning season). Survey data indicate POR's pike population
is declining in response to these efforts.
The 2012 netting was conducted between March 19 and June 23, and removed 5,808 pike weighing 18,597 lbs., ranging in size from 7 inches to 49 inches.
Tiger muskies weren't specifically on this meeting's agenda, but I spoke with Bolding during the break about a couple issues of interest to the tiger muskie angling community. The potential 2014
stocking of Samish Lake in Whatcom County is moving forward, with lake surveys being conducted this summer, to be followed by SEPA* review. (*State Environmental Policy Act) The possibility of
additional lake(s) north of Seattle is still on the table, but no specific lakes (other than Samish) are under active consideration at this time.
I also talked with Bruce about the split-fin problem that several anglers mentioned to me. There seems to be general agreement that split fins are caused by overcrowding in the hatchery. Bruce
acknowledged this may have been a problem 3 or 4 years ago, and these fish are now showing up in angler catches, but he feels the hatchery took care of it and it's not a problem now.
In response to a question, Chris Donley said WDFW is reluctant to use tiger muskies for lake rehabilitation because they're expensive to produce and not very effective against spinyrays as they
prefer soft-bodied forage. (Note: WDFW used tiger muskies in the past for this purpose, in such places as Fazon Lake in Whatcom County and Green Lake in King County, but in recent years has viewed
tiger musies only as a recreational fish.)
Washington Department of Revenue's Attempt To Tax Fishing Tournaments
This is a big issue that could affect every fishing tournament in the state, including those run by non-profit fishing clubs. DOR's axe happened to fall on Northwest Bass, a private for-profit
tournament circuit operated by Gary Stiles and his wife, who put on 5 tourneys a year and net about $15,000 per annum after prizes and expenses.
The Stiles did this the right way. They contacted DOR back in 2004, when they were organizing their bass tournament circuit, and received assurances that DOR classified fishing derbies as "contests
of chance," which under state law makes them exempt from retail sales and B & O taxes. But in October 2011, a DOR tax collector slapped the Stileses with a $45,000 bill for back taxes. The
rationale was that fishing tournaments are a form of "entertainment," not "contests of chance." Taxes were imposed on gross income from entry fees, not just profits after prizes and expenses. After
spending over $15,000 on attorney fees, the Stileses won in a hearing before an administrative law judge, who ruled fishing tournaments aren't subject to retail sales taxes. But DOR still pressed for
payment of B & O taxes, by again reclassifying fishing tournments, this time from "entertainment" to "services and other," instead of "contests of chance." The Stileses ultimately agreed to pay B
& O taxes for 2012 because their attorney told them fighting DOR would cost them $50,000 to $100,000 in legal fees.
From internal e-mails and other documents obtained by the Stileses, it's apparent this attempt to tax fishing tournaments wasn't the rogue action of an overzealous tax collector. Requiring fishing
tournament sponsors to pay taxes was the subject of numerous meetings at high management levels in DOR. There are a lot of fishing tournaments, some of them are big business, and to DOR they
represent a significant potential new revenue source.
This has all the appearances of an internal DOR policy change that overturns longstanding practice by exploiting an ambiguity in state statutes, and it also appears the agency decided to go after a
small "Mom and Pop" operation first, who wouldn't have the financial resources to wage a legal fight, to get a precedent established before going after the big operators. The ALJ's ruling in favor of
the Stileses on the retail sales tax issue is not a binding precedent that keeps DOR from trying the same thing against other fishing tournament sponsors, and DOR has not backed off imposing
the B & O tax, so there's a pretty significant potential that other tournament sponsors including fishing clubs may get tax bills from DOR, possibly for hefty sums going back many years.
Gary is working with Rep. Matt Shea (Spokane) on a legislative proposal. Gary's approach is a law that would require DOR to reimburse people who successfully appeal tax bills for their legal
expenses, but I don't think that will get anywhere in the Legislature. I suggested, instead, he work with Rep. Shea to remove the legal ambiguity by writing a clearly-worded tax exemption for fishing
tournaments into the statute. This has a much better chance of passing because it simply preserves the status quo and removes an ambiguity from state law.
I think this is a propitious time for fishing clubs that run tournaments to beging actively supporting Gary's legislative efforts. Because Gary is already working with Rep. Shea, I suggest sending
your letters and e-mails to this specific legislator for now. Rep. Shea represents a district in the Spokane area, where the Stileses live and work, but this is a statewide issue and at some point
you'll probably want to contact your own legislators about it.
You can read what Gary wrote about his experiences with DOR on his website here: http://www.nwbass.net