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This publication is a guide to help those engaged in commercial fishing operations understand Washington taxes and how they apply to the industry. This guide applies only to commercial "deep sea" fishing outside the territorial waters of the state, and to commercial fishing within the three-mile limit.

For additional information or answers to any questions about Washington excise taxes, please contact us.

Updated January, 2010


Indian Treaty Fishing Rights

The gross-- income directly derived from treaty fishing rights related activity is not subject to state tax. This exclusion from tax is limited to those businesses exclusively owned and operated by Indians or tribes who have treaty fishing rights. If a business exclusively owned and operated by Indians or tribes deals with both treaty and non-treaty fish, this exclusion from tax is limited to the business attributable to the treaty fish.

Business and Occupation Tax

Commercial fishers are required to register with us and account for the business and occupation (B&O) tax.

If you catch fish in Washington waters, you are subject to B&O tax under the Extracting classification. The amount of tax due is calculated by multiplying this rate times the value of the fish (usually the selling price).

If you catch fish outside of Washington waters but selling your catch within Washington, you are subject to either the Wholesaling, or Retailing, unless the fish are sold in interstate or foreign commerce. The amount of tax due is calculated by multiplying the appropriate rate times the selling price of the fish. (The Wholesaling B&O tax applies to sales for resale; the Retailing B&O tax applies to sales to the final consumer.)

Commercial fisherman that sell fish to others that will resell the fish (wholesaling) must obtain a reseller permit from the buyer. This document must be retained for five years.

If you catch fish in Washington waters and sell them within Washington, other than in interstate or foreign commerce, you are liable for both the Extracting B&O tax and the Wholesaling or Retailing B&O tax. However, you are also entitled to the Multiple Activities Tax Credit (MATC) (pdf). The MATC allows the commercial fisher to take a credit against the Extracting B&O tax in an amount equal to the Wholesaling or Retailing B&O tax due on the selling activity. The effect of the MATC is to eliminate a double tax on a person who both catches and sells fish in Washington.

If you are not registered with us and should be, you must complete a Business License Application. These forms are available at your local department of Revenue, Labor and Industries, Licensing, or Employment Security offices and the Corporation Division of the Secretary of State.

Enhanced Food Fish Tax

In addition to the B&O tax, commercial fishers may be liable for the excise tax on enhanced food fish. The tax applies to the first possession of enhanced food fish by an owner in Washington.

Indian Treaty Food Fish. Transactions involving treaty food fish are not subject to the enhanced food fish tax, regardless of where the transaction takes place.

The term "enhanced food fish" includes the following:

  • Species of food fish, shellfish, and anadromous game fish (those which go upriver to spawn), including byproducts and parts thereof, caught in Washington territorial and adjacent waters.

  • Salmon caught in the territorial and adjacent waters of Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.

  • Troll-caught Chinook salmon caught in territorial and adjacent waters of southeast Alaska.

The fish tax is based on the value of the enhanced food fish at the point of landing. The fish are "landed" when they are placed on a tender in the territorial waters of Washington, or when they are brought to land, which includes wharves, piers, or other such extensions.

The rate of the tax depends upon the species of fish or shellfish.

The fish tax is usually paid by the licensed dealer to whom the enhanced food fish are sold, rather than by the commercial fisher. However, if the buyer is someone other than a dealer licensed by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, then the commercial fisher is directly responsible for the tax.

Even when the fish are sold to a licensed dealer, the commercial fisher may bear some of the economic burden of the fish tax. A dealer is entitled to deduct an amount equal to half of the fish tax from the price paid to the commercial fisher for enhanced food fish. Tuna, mackerel, and jack fish are exempt from the fish tax. Shellfish raised from eggs or larvae, and under the physical control of the grower until harvested or sold, are also exempt from the fish tax.

Credit. A credit is allowed against the amount of enhanced food fish tax owed for any tax previously paid on the same food fish to any legally established taxing authority, including Indian tribes.

If you have questions about the fish tax, please call (360) 902-7151.

Retail Sales and Use Tax

Commercial fishers must pay retail sales or use tax on all nonexempt equipment and supplies used to conduct their business activity.

There are retail sales and use tax exemptions (pdf) for sales of, or repairs to, watercraft and component parts that are primarily used in commercial deep sea fishing operations outside the territorial waters of Washington. This exemption is not available for watercraft and component parts used for kelping, purse seining, or gill netting, because such fishing methods can only be performed in Washington waters (the three-mile limit).

If you are regularly engaged in commercial deep sea fishing operations, you are also entitled to a sales and use tax exemption for diesel fuel used in the operation of watercraft. To be "regularly engaged" in commercial fishing operations and to qualify for these exemptions, you must earn at least $5,000 per year at this activity. (If you engage in commercial deep sea fishing and also charter boats for sport fishing outside the territorial waters of the state, you may combine your income from both activities in order to meet the $5,000 threshold.)

Personal Property Tax or Watercraft Excise Tax?

Vessels used exclusively for commercial fishing activities are subject to personal property tax (pdf). These boats are listed with and assessed by our agency. We are responsible for collecting the tax.

To list your boat, or if you have questions about the personal property tax, call the Commercial Vessels Registration & Valuation Section at (360) 534-1503, option 5, or write us at:

    Department of Revenue
    Special Programs Division
    PO Box 47477
    Olympia, WA 98504-7477

Boats used part-time for commercial fishing activities are subject to the Watercraft Excise Tax. The Watercraft Excise Tax is administered by the Department of Licensing. If you have questions about this excise tax, call the Department of Licensing's Vehicle Vessel Division at (360) 902-3770. You can also contact your local licensing agent or write to:

    Department of Licensing
    Vehicle Vessel Division
    PO Box 9909
    Olympia, WA 98507-9909

For More Information

The following administrative rules pertain to commercial fishers:

  • Washington Administrative Code (WAC) section 458-20-135 - Extracting natural products