John Arway, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, has announced his retirement as of early November. In a previous column, I mentioned the conflict that had developed between Arway and some of the state legislatures over Arway’s request for a fishing license fee increase. Arway threatened the closing of some trout hatcheries due to lack of funding and that riled some politicians to the point of introducing legislation that would limit the director to eight years. Essentially that legislation would have ended Arway’s term with the commission; he was completing his second four-term as director. Joe Scarnati, a Republican from Cameron County, was the chief lawmaker pushing to remove Arway from the commission.
John has a degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in aquatic biology from Tennessee Technological University. He served with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission for a period of 38 years mostly as environmental services director; his last eight years he served as the executive director of the commission.
When John first became the director, he hoped to avoid a license fee increase knowing that license sales would drop off as a result. Instead over the years, he tried a number of other different approaches to raising funds, but nothing brought about the needed financial support. A license fee increase was eventually brought before lawmakers since they must approve such an increase first and that, of course, brings us to the situation I am now writing about.
I’m convinced that John did an outstanding job serving the Fish and Boat Commission and the fishermen of this state. In my mind, there were a couple of things that made John stand out in his leadership role at the commission. First, he had a degree in the biological field; something I feel is very important if you are managing all of the state’s fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Secondly, John is a fisherman-not “was” a fisherman but rather “is” a fisherman. He is one of us, and he remained an active fisherman even in his capacity as the executive director of the Fish and Boat Commission. Yes, John is a friend of mine, and we are also on occasion fishing companions. John doesn’t just talk about what fishermen do-he does it. On more than one occasion we have sat on 12 inches of ice at Blanchard Dam pulling crappies, bluegills, and perch from the depths. On many occasions, we have boated Hills Creek Lake in search of panfish and John always latches onto his share of fish. If you actually do what we fishermen do you obviously have a better understanding of what we face and what problems need to be addressed.
John will now have more time to devote to his fishing and to his grandchildren. He is also a hunter, and I’m sure more time will be spent at camp. I spoke with John last week and asked him what the new executive would be facing. Since John is “no longer in the way of a license increase” will the new director see that increase come to pass? Arway feels that the excuses from lawmakers will likely continue with a lot of the problem being “most lawmakers are followers,” and if ten or twelve in various leadership capacities don’t want to grant an increase, the others will follow suit. John also told me he doesn’t feel we can sustain our hunting and fishing opportunities with just hunters and fishermen license fees.” John feels we will likely need the government to be involved with financial assistance.
We’ll be watching to see where all this goes, but in the meantime, I told John congratulations on a job well done, and I would meet him on the ice at Blanchard.