Establishing a future for fishing and boating in Pennsylvania

As a Commissioner for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC), I take particular pride in the incredible water resources and recreational opportunities that abound here in Northcentral Pennsylvania. From the Susquehanna River to Pine and Fishing Creeks and many other places that we all know and love, it is hard to beat a day on the water.

The same can be said all across the Commonwealth. Each year, an estimated 1.1 million anglers and over 3 million boaters enjoy Pennsylvania’s more than 86,000 miles of streams and rivers and nearly 4,000 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs. In addition to the countless hours of enjoyment and memories they produce, our rich and diverse waters generate an estimated $1.2 billion annually in fishing-related expenditures. No doubt about it fishing and boating are big business in Pennsylvania.

A proposal currently before the state legislature acknowledges that fact and would authorize the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission to establish its fees in a business-like approach to meeting its costs while minimizing the impact on the angling and boating public.

This would be an evolution from the current system in which fees are increased in large sums by the legislature after several years, negatively impacting sales and participation as a result of the size of the increases needed to account for rising costs over time. This model ultimately drives people away from our sports and erodes our ability to offer the goods and services that Pennsylvanians and visitors alike have come to expect from us. The agency receives no General Fund revenues and relies largely on the fees paid by anglers and boaters.

In their bipartisan memo that attracted another 20 fellow senators to co-sponsor Senate Bill 1168, Senators John Eichelberger (R-Blair) and John Wozniak (D-Cambria) stated the following: “As an independent administrative agency that is not supported by General Fund revenues and relies on user fees to pay for almost everything it does, the PFBC has a vested business interest in setting a fee structure that generates sufficient revenues to sustain its work on behalf of anglers, boaters, and aquatic resources while having the least possible negative impact on participation and sales.”

That comment is a great summary of both what we need to do and what we intend to do with the authority from Senate Bill 1168. We are not a for-profit business; but as a government business, we need to use the revenue we receive from customer sales to provide the goods and services that our anglers and boaters expect.

The rest of the Board of Commissioners and I are committed to using a thoughtful, deliberate approach to setting fees that accounts for inflation since the last license increase in 2005; anticipates changing demographics; recognizes sales data patterns; and anticipates modest, incremental increases to keep up with rising costs all while attempting to minimize the long-term impacts to our customers. These decisions would be made following a transparent, public process that allows for anglers and boaters to express their opinions about any proposed fee changes.

This year, we are celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the establishment of our agency. If you are like me and want to see the Fish and Boat Commission thrive for another 150 years; continue to protect the water quality of our streams, rivers, and lakes and the health of the fish that live in them; produce approximately 3.2 million trout annually; stock millions of other cool and warm water fish; ensure safe and legal fishing and boating practices; and offer improved access to waters throughout Pennsylvania, please ask your State Senator and Representative to support SB 1168 as a way to establish a sustainable future for fishing and boating in Pennsylvania.

Hussar is District 5 Commissioner for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in Lewisburg. The district includes Bradford, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga, and Union Counties.