Latest Issue

Controversy at the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

I would much rather be writing a story about catching trout on an assortment of great nymph patterns, but there’s another outdoor related issue that I feel needs some further explanation.

It’s no secret that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been seeking a license increase in order to stay viable. The fact is, the commission has not had a license increase since 2005. Some people may not realize that the commission is funded, for the most part, by its sale of fishing licenses; it is not funded by the state’s general fund. The problem is further aggravated by the fact that license sales have been declining in recent years — something that’s true for many other states as well. There is not enough room in this piece to get into the “whys” for the decreasing license sales — that I’ll save for another story. In the meantime, however, it doesn’t take a mathematical genius to figure out that if you are earning less than you are bringing in your business is not going to fare very well — if at all.

Enter our state legislatures. What do they have to do with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s funding? Here again, I suspect there are a lot of readers out there, and that includes some fishermen, who are not aware that the commission must have the approval of the state lawmakers to raise license fees — they are not permitted to do so on their own. It is at this juncture where our present controversy has its roots.

Let me explain further. John Arway, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, has requested a license increase or, if not a license increase, at least an opportunity for the commission to be allowed to set its own fees without lawmakers approval — that has gone nowhere. In the meantime, the commission has continued to try to deal with its diminishing funds; cuts have been made in various areas including personnel. In order to survive, more cuts must be made — enter the commission’s trout fishing program. One of the biggest expenditures of the commission is the cost of administering the trout hatcheries and stocking trout. Since no fee increases have been forthcoming, Arway has threatened to close some fish hatcheries — one that could be shut down is the Oswayo Fish Hatchery in Potter County, which is in the district of Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati. In response to the potential shutdown Scarnati and several other lawmakers have introduced SB 935; in short, it would limit the term of the Executive Director of the PFBC to an eight-year term. Arway’s term would thus be over as of March 2 — if the bill becomes law. Governor Wolf would have to sign the bill before it became law, and at this point, no one seems to know what might happen there. There have even been suggestions that the Legislature might sue if the bill became law and Arway refused to comply.

Alright, you now have a summary of what’s been going on in recent weeks. In addition to talking with John Arway several times, I also recently spoke by phone with Republican State Representative, Garth Everett and asked him where he was in all of this. The Senate passed the term limit bill — SB 935 with a 34-16 vote. The legislation was then voted out of the House Game and Fisheries committee by a 15-9 vote — only one Democrat voted in favor of the measure. Everett was one of the 15 votes in favor of the term limit; it now goes to the House for a vote in April. As I talked with Rep. Everett, I got the impression that even though he voted to move the bill on to the House he didn’t seem to think it would get much further action, and it may not even pass the House. Rep. Everett did tell me that in the past and even now he said, “I’m in favor of legislation that would allow the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to set their own fees.” Rep. Everett also seemed to feel, however, that Arway staying on as Executive Director would impede any future progress in the days to come.

So, that’s what this controversy is all about. Where am I in all of this? Well, I’m not sure anybody much cares what I think, but here are my thoughts. Simply put, no one wants to pay more for anything, but I also run a business — and like it or not — I had to raise prices over the years because it was costing me more to run my business. Guess what, the Fish and Boat Commission is a business, and it too must make enough to cover its expenditures and pay its employees. I think the license fee should have been granted a long time ago and I’ll go a step further; I think the Legislature should get out of the business of controlling funding for the commission.

A fishing license with a trout stamp costs somewhere around $30; that’s really cheap entertainment in my opinion. It costs more than that for my wife and I to have a meal at a local restaurant and almost that much for breakfast for the two of us. I know there are going to be some people complain about a $5 or $10 increase, but that’s the cost of about three cups of coffee — big deal. Even though I bought a Senior Resident Lifetime several years ago, I still buy five additional resident licenses and trout stamps for my kids, my son-in-law, my granddaughter and her husband.

As far as John Arway is concerned, I think he’s done a great job at the commission. He also has a biology background, which I doubt any other director had and he is an avid fisherman — yes, he actually fishes — he doesn’t just talk about it. If anybody has increased the ante in this controversy, I’m inclined to think it’s a disgruntled politician who wants term limits for Arway. By the way, has anybody given any thought to limiting lawmakers’ term limits?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *