As famed 60 Minutes host Andy Rooney would say, “Life’s like a roll of toilet paper, the closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” For me, that maxim certainly holds true for the end of 2019. Before we bid adieu to 2019, let’s take a quick look at some high points.
When it comes to the legislative session this year, the recreational fishing industry and anglers inserted themselves into the budget discussion in an unprecedented manner by squashing a proposed fee increase that the state and tribes sought. While it’s hard to take too much satisfaction in stripping an essential agency from needed funding, it was past time for Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to come once again to recreational anglers for more money, while fisher people see less opportunity on the water. You may be saying to yourself, “But wait, I don’t fish, why should I care?” To that, it is a good reminder that over half of the 240,000 recreational boats are used for fishing all or some of the time. As Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) President George Harris likes to say, “boating and fishing are used interchangeably.”
That boaters are a cash cow is nothing new. Lawmakers are not shy when it comes to taxing boating. Each year, boaters pay $70 million in taxes and fees and get about $54 million in services. As the late Senator Andy Hill would say, “For a state without an income tax, taxing boating is the next best thing.” Good thing he was on our side on all the issues, but not every legislator looks as kindly to boating.
While this was the big legislative win (again, an odd win to kill funding for a needed agency), there were other important happenings throughout the year. The Big Tent Coalition, which represents the state’s $28 billion outdoor recreation economy, continues to showcase the businesses and opportunities associated with the Evergreen State. Nationally, this economy means 2.2% of the nation’s GDP, which puts it above the agricultural sector. The good news is that we are organized and unified and that will continue in 2020.
The Big Tent equivalent for the entire maritime sector is just as active as ever. Legislative priorities, our own IRS status, and monthly meetings ensure that the state’s $38 billion maritime sector (of which recreational boating is $6.9 billion) has a voice on all things maritime.
Not to be outdone, the Recreational Boating Association of Washington (RBAW) and the industry (i.e. my employer at the NMTA) have built an even closer relationship in 2019. Under the moniker that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, RBAW and NMTA are working shoulder-to-shoulder with NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service around permitting to existing marine facilities. This issue is a tough one to explain but essentially the federal agencies that issue permits for doing work in projects have altered their policy in recent years. Starting in 2018, improving a marina with new pilings and wiring would involve a permitting (and mitigation) process as if this site was a new marina. Fortunately, an open dialogue and keener understanding exists and will need to continue to tidy up this essential piece to boating.
When it comes to 2020, look to hear more about copper bottom paint in this column. The industry and users still want copper out of Puget Sound and have embraced the California approach, which outlaws heavy leaching paints.
In other future-oriented boating news, NMTA President George Harris and I recently met with the new director of Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Chris Rilling and his Clean Marina Director Blair Engelbrecht. The meeting was exceptional and continues the ties the NMTA has forged with their past leader Chris Wilke and Clean Marina staffer Andy Gregory. Chris took copious notes and we talked turkey about our past relationship and what future collaboration looks like. As someone who collects good news, this visit was a 2019 highlight for sure.
When it comes to 2020, keep me on your list if you see boating, business, or, heck, general interest stories or podcasts that perks your interest. I’d like to broaden my portfolio, as they say. I would also love to hear from you more often. Getting involved at the local level matters, and even just writing a letter to Northwest Yachting or one of your representatives can make a difference. Lawmakers rely on you to stay informed, and if collectively, we boaters are happy or getting grouchy about a policy or idea without letting them know how we feel, they will draw their own conclusions. As I’ve said before, we may not agree with those conclusions.