By Deputy Chief Mike Cenci
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife - Police 

Protecting the Integrity of the Seafood Trade


March 1, 2018

Photo courtesy of Mike Cenci, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife – Police.

In Washington State, the licensing framework for commercial seafood buying and dealing has evolved into a confusing patchwork of legislative changes and additions. Small businesses were faced with regulatory inconsistency and the need to buy multiple license types to cover overlapping activities. In an effort to rectify some of this, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Police (WDFW) collaborated with other agency programs to simplify, combine, and even eliminate some licenses. This effort is reflected in new laws for 2018 that could affect you, especially if you are in the business of selling your own catch direct to the consumer.

There was also a need to strengthen regulation and tracking of illegal, unreported, or unregulated fisheries (IUU) which negatively affect conservation and undermine legitimate local and global seafood markets. Thanks to the support of State Senator Christine Rolfes, a new law requiring country of origin to be declared on imported seafood gave law enforcement a better ability to trace to origin and determine legal harvest and importation.

Boatswain's Locker

Outcomes of the new laws:

• Streamlining seafood trade license types: Under the new law, people would need to purchase a base license, called a Fish Dealer's License, to broker and/or process fish and shellfish. For those who purchase fish and shellfish from harvesters, a Wholesale Fish Buyer's Endorsement is required to be added to the Fish Dealers License.

• Selling your own catch: Commercial fishers who would like to sell their catch directly to market would need to purchase a Limited Fish Sellers Endorsement when buying their annual commercial fishing license. The Anadromous Game Fish Buyer's license and the Direct Retail Endorsements were eliminated last year because the opportunities they provided would be available within this new fish buying / selling license framework.

• Expands the list of species commercial fishers can sell directly to consumers: Under the new Limited Fish Sellers Endorsement currently available from WDFW, commercial fishers can sell at retail any species they are licensed to catch by getting the endorsement when they purchase their fishing license. In the past, commercial fishermen who wanted to sell their catch to the consumer had to become licensed as either a wholesale fish dealer or purchase a Direct Retail Endorsement (DRE). However, someone with a DRE was limited to selling only salmon, sturgeon, or crab. For example, a salmon troller could sell his salmon right off the boat to a customer if they had a DRE, but not the tuna the same troller was also licensed to catch. Instead, a wholesale fish dealer's license was required to sell the tuna.

• Designated alternates may sell catch to the consumer at retail. A licensed commercial fisher holding a limited fish seller endorsement may allow a designated alternate to sell under the authority of that endorsement.

• Only one license needed: An individual need only add one limited fish seller endorsement to his or her license portfolio. If a limited fish seller endorsement is selected by an individual holding more than one commercial fishing license issued by the department, an endorsement is considered to be added free of additional cost to all commercial fishing licenses held by that individual.

Philips Publishing Group

• Food Service Exemption: The holder of a limited fish seller endorsement selling their own catch directly to consumers at retail is exempt from the permitting requirements of chapter 246-215 WAC. This chapter establishes definitions, sets standards for management and personnel, food operations, and equipment and facilities and provides for food establishment plan review, permit issuance, inspection, etc. To be exempt from these rules though, the holder of a limited fish seller endorsement must follow these requirements: (a) Only sell fresh, whole fish or fresh fish that has been cleaned and dressed; (b) use ice from a commercial source to hold the fish; and (c) provide the buyer with a receipt stating the date of purchase, Washington fish-receiving ticket number documenting the original delivery, name, address, and phone number of the holder of the limited fish seller endorsement from whom the fish or shellfish was purchased, and the species and weight or number of fish or shellfish sold.

• Aligns bond requirements: Before the law change, all wholesale fish dealing businesses needed to post a security, which is inconsistent with the intent of the bonding scheme. The new law eliminates the need to post a bond for those businesses that are solely brokering or processing fish or shellfish, and aligns the bond requirement with original receivers who must report harvests to fisheries managers on fish receiving tickets. This is not a new obligation if you buy fish, but eliminates the bond requirement for those that are not the first receiver of the catch (processors and brokers).

• Clarifies regulated activities. Regulated activities are now better defined, such as "brokering", which reduces confusion and provides a clearer distinction between regulated and unregulated activities.

• Better Protection for businesses: Local businesses are facing competition from illegal seafood trafficking. New laws expanded the ability to better control this by being more inclusive of species involved in interstate and foreign commerce. seafood branding and labeling laws were also amended as part of this proposal in order to increase consumer confidence and decrease fraud.

• Eliminates some license types. Another change in the law clarifies that an alternate operator's license is not required for charter boat operation, consistent with past legislative intent. A salmon Charter Crew Member license currently required for deck hands to sell salmon roe was eliminated, and the activity allowed under the base Charter Boat License.

There is always room for government process and regulatory improvement, so feel free to call Ms. Becky McRoberts (WDFW Police Community Outreach Liaison) with your thoughts about how we can better support seafood businesses. Also happy to answer any questions or direct you the right source, she can be reached at (360) 902-7072.


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