The information on this page is intended for educational purposes only and is subject to change. Fishermen should contact the agencies directly to determine what is required for their particular situation.

Washington State and Local Regulations, Permits and More for Seafood Alternative Markets

Fishermen considering selling their catch directly from their boat, a roadside stand/market, or other alternative market will need to follow regulations and guidelines and obtain specific licenses, registrations, permits, and certificates from several state and local agencies in addition to the licenses and permits required to fish commercially. Here we provide selected general information, by agency, that highlights some of these requirements and associated fees (as of 2015).

Fishermen should contact the agencies below to determine current requirements and fees and to ensure they are in compliance. When doing so, fishermen will need to be able to describe the seafood products they will be selling -- species, product form (e.g., whole, filet, smoked) -- and the type of alternative market(s) they will use.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW)

License Division
Contact: Commercial Support Personnel 
Telephone: 360.902.2464 
Email: commercialsales@dfw.wa.gov
Information Sources: Licenses, Applications and Fees, Definitions and Code

The following provides selected information about two types of WDFW commercial fish business licenses that may be appropriate for fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. Fishermen should check the information sources above and contact WDFW directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

Direct Retail Endorsement

Description: Allows a fisherman to clean, dress, and sell their catch of live crab, unprocessed salmon (except for heading and gutting), and/or whole sturgeon directly to consumers at retail, including over the Internet. 

Annual Fee: $155 (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • Requires a food and beverage service workers permit and a letter from the county health department certifying that the methods used by the fishermen to transport, store and display product meet county and statewide standards adopted by the state Board of Health for food service operations (see the Department of Public Health section below). 
  • Cannot be used by others (e.g., spouse, business partner, employee) at any time, only by the licensed fisherman. 

Wholesale Fish Dealer License

Description: Required for fishermen to sell their catch to consumers and wholesalers (all permitted species through both traditional and alternative markets). 

Annual Fee: $355 (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • Not required if selling only whole sturgeon, uncut/unprocessed salmon and/or live crab (see Direct Retail Endorsement above). 
  • Required for the commercial processing of food fish or shellfish, including custom canning or processing of personal use seafood.
  • Requires a surety bond of $2,000 to ensure fish tickets are reported in a timely and accurate manner.
  • Requires additional permits if buying certain types of fish (e.g., anadromous species) from treaty fishermen.

Washington Department of Agriculture (WDA)

The WDA oversees the safe and legal handling and distribution of food products in Washington State. The following provides information about two WDA programs that may pertain to fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. Fishermen should check the information sources for each program and contact WDA directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

Weights and Measures Program
Contact: Licensing Specialist
Phone: 360.902.2035
Email: wtsmeasures@agr.wa.gov
Information Source:  Weighing and Measuring Devices, NTEP Conformance Database

Weighing Scale Certification

Description: Scales used to sell seafood must be approved and registered. Most seafood must be sold by weight.  Whole shellfish may be sold by count and size designations may be provided.

Annual Fee: Dependent on scale capacity. 
e.g., $10 for 0-400 pounds, $40 for 401 -5,000 pounds

Select Details:

  • Must be a legal for trade scale and must have a National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP) Certificate of Conformance. 
  • Scales must be registered annually with the WA Department of Revenue, Business Licensing Service.
  • A copy of the business license with weights and measures endorsement must be on site with the scale.
  • Product that is weighed and packaged without the customer present must be labeled with the product name, net weight, price per unit and total price as specified in NIST Handbook 130, Uniform Packaging and Labeling Regulation. Additional information also may be needed on the label per the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act.

Food Safety Program
Contact: Food Safety Officer
Phone: 360.902.1876
Information Source:  County Food Safety Contacts

Food Processor License

Description: Required for the processing* of seafood.

Annual Fee: Dependent on gross annual sales. 
e.g., $55 for $0-50,000, $110 for $50,001 -500,000

Information sources: Application and requirements

Select Details:

  • Requires a daily sanitation monitoring plan and a seafood HACCP plan for each type of fishery product for which a food safety hazard has been identified (see information sources above for specific requirements).

  • Not required for licensed retail food service establishments with 100% of sales occurring on site.

*FDA defines processing as handling, storing, preparing, heading, eviscerating, shucking, freezing, changing into different market forms, manufacturing, preserving, packing, labeling, dockside unloading, or holding fish and fishery products. Excludes practices such as heading, eviscerating, or freezing solely to prepare a fish for holding on board a commercial fishing vessel.

Food Storage Warehouse License

Description: Required to store seafood away from the boat, prior to distribution to others (e.g., wholesalers, retail markets, restaurants, direct to consumer). 

Annual Fee: Varies; $0-$50 (2015, subject to change)

Information source: Application and requirements

Select Details:

  • Not required for licensed retail food service establishments with 100% of sales occurring on site

Departments of Public Health

Both state and local public health agencies regulate and assist with seafood safety, ensuring safe and sanitary seafood handling and distribution. Fishermen should check the information sources provided below and contact both the WDOH and the local (county and/or city) environmental health department directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.

Washington Department of Health (WDOH)
Environmental Health and Safety Division

Contact: Food Safety Specialist
Phone: 360.236.3385
Information Source: 

This division of WDOH includes several programs with staff who assist local governments and other agencies with environmental health and safety. Here we provide select information about two programs that may pertain to fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. 

Food Safety Program

The WDOH Food Safety Program team partners with local health departments (along with other agencies) to promote safe practices in food service and retail settings. The Washington State Retail Food Code – adapted from the 2009 FDA Food Code with some modifications-- provides the safety standards for food served or sold to the public, and includes retail shellfish requirements and food worker card regulations.  

Shellfish Program
Contact: Commercial Licensing
Phone: 360.236.3330
Information Source:  Shellfish Program Contacts; Licenses and Applications

The WDOH Shellfish Program regulates shellfish food safety through testing of both filter-feeding shellfish (e.g., geoduck and other clams, scallops) and the water where they grow and are harvested by commercial (and recreational) fishermen. The following provides information about one type of license from the Shellfish Program that may pertain to fishermen selling their catch through seafood alternative markets. 

Shellstock Shipper License

Description: Allows a fisherman to commercially harvest and sell filter-feeding shellfish (e.g., geoduck and other clams, scallops) shellstock.

Annual Fee: $263 (2015, subject to change), plus annual PSP testing fee (dependent on number of harvesting sites). 
e.g., $173 for 1-2 harvest sites, $259 for 3 or more sites (2015, subject to change)

Select Details:

  • Does not allow shucking of shellfish or repacking shucked shellfish. Harvested product must be handled and shipped in accordance with seafood safety requirements.


County Health Department

Contact: Food Program Coordinator or Plans Examiner
Phone: Varies by county (County Contacts)

County and city environmental health departments inspect and license food operations to ensure safe food handling practices. Requirements and fees vary among both local environmental health departments and types of seafood alternative markets. The permits and certifications listed below, as well as others, may be required by a given environmental health department.  For more information, contact the Department of Health in the county in which you will be operating your business (see county contact list above).

Food Worker Card (aka Food and Beverage Service Worker Permit)

Required for any food worker engaged in food handling or food service. A food worker is defined as a person who works with unpacked food, food equipment, food utensils, or with any surface that comes in contact with unwrapped food. Food workers who attend a food safety training class and pass the State of Washington exam on food safety basics are issued a Food Handler Permit.

Food Service Establishment Permit

Required for any food business establishment operating at a fixed location for more than 21 consecutive days. 

Temporary Food Service Establishment Permit

Required for temporary establishments that operate at a fixed location with a fixed menu for 21 consecutive days or less, this includes food booths at fairs and festivals

Mobile Food Establishment Permit

Required to operate your mobile food unit as a food service establishment, including food carts, trailers, and trucks as well as food kiosks.  

Commissary Kitchen Agreement

Required in several counties to allow a food retailer, caterer or mobile food unit to access and use a licensed food service establishment as a kitchen. The agreement often requires cosigning by the food establishment and the kitchen operator and approval by the local environmental health advisor

Multi-event/ Farmers Market Permit

May be required to operate at a recurring event (e.g., farmers market) or multiple events.

Local Authorities

Depending on the type of market and where it is located, additional permits and fees may be required by local authorities. Below are a few examples of such requirements. Fishermen should contact local authorities directly for up-to-date information and to determine the requirements that apply to their specific situation.


Local harbors/marinas may have their own requirements for selling one's catch off the boat or at a dockside (or fishermen’s) market. In some cases, only certain products or types of markets are allowed. 


City government may require a business license, vendor’s license, or both if selling from a vehicle or stand within city limits. Also, selling from private property requires proof of permission from the property owner, having an appropriate business license, and meeting local zoning requirements.


County planning departments may require meeting zoning regulations and providing proof of permission from appropriate agencies (e.g., state highway division, county road office) when selling from a vehicle or stand on a public right-of-way or from property owners if selling from private property.

Adapted from Johnson T. (ed). 2007.  Appendix L: Marketing your own catch: State and local Regulations in Washington. In: Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual. P. 81.

Additional permits and other documentation usually are needed to establish an alternative market. Be sure to consult with resource management, public health and business authorities before selling your seafood.

Information provided on this page was synthesized from interviews with fishermen and buyers, and from the Fishermen’s Direct Marketing Manual, the Small Farm and Direct Marketing Handbook, ATTRA publications, and other resources (see About this Website and Resources).