In 2019, the Legislature required the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to implement a commercial whale watching license. License and application fees are based on the type of vessel and number of passengers. The application fee is $75. The annual license fee is $200 and the annual per vessel fees vary based on the number of vessels and whether the vessels are motorized or human-powered.
Commercial whale watching without a permit, or violating DFW rules regarding commercial whale watching, is a misdemeanor, and doing so within one year of the date of a prior conviction is a gross misdemeanor. Upon conviction of a gross misdemeanor, DFW must deny applications for a commercial whale watching license or alternate operator license for up to two years from the conviction.
The Legislature directed DFW to adopt rules for holders of a commercial whale watching license for viewing southern resident orca whales for the inland waters of Washington by January 1, 2021. The rules must be designed to reduce the daily and cumulative impacts on southern resident orca whales and consider the economic viability of license holders.
The rules took effect on January 23, 2021 and establish licensing, training, reporting, and compliance monitoring procedures, including reporting of southern resident orca whale sightings. The training and reporting requirements go into effect May 1, 2021. The rules also set limitations on commercial whale watching operators viewing southern resident orca whales, including:
A commercial whale watching business license is required for businesses that engage in the activity of commercial whale watching. A person who operates a motorized or sailing vessel engaged in the business of whale watching must hold a commercial whale watching operator license. Fees for operator licenses are $100 with a $75 annual application fee.
A person conducting commercial whale watching via guided kayak tours must hold a kayak guide license issued by the DFW. The person must be designated as a kayak guide on the commercial whale watching business license. The fee for a kayak guide license is $25 with annual application fee of $25. Fees based on the number of kayaks owned by a commercial whale watching operation are deleted.
Residency and business requirements do not apply to Canadian individuals or corporations applying for and holding commercial whale watching licenses. Commercial whale watching licenses includes a commercial whale watching business license, a commercial whale watching operator license, or a kayak guide license.
All license and application fees for commercial whale watching businesses are waived for calendar years 2021 and 2022.
May 12, 2021