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PFBC updates Trout Unlimited on issues during recent meeting

Editor’s note: The Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited submitted this article in cooperation with the PA Fish and Boat Commission recapping its recent meeting with the PFBC.

The Susquehanna Chapter of Trout Unlimited hosted officials of the PA Fish & Boat Commission (PFBC) in a virtual meeting on Feb. 10 to learn about current and future issues and programs of interest to anglers and boaters in Northcentral Pennsylvania. Charles Knowlden Jr., Susquehanna TU President, introduced PFBC Executive Director Tim Schaeffer; Eric Hussar, District 5 Commissioner; Jason Detar, Area 3 Fisheries Manager; Jacob Bennett, Waterways Conservation Officer (Northumberland, Union, Snyder and Montour Counties), and Darrell Miller, Waterways Conservation Officer (Lycoming and parts of adjoining Counties).

Executive Director Schaeffer reported that 2020 was a very successful legislative year with many important accomplishments which included:

• Act 56 delegated authority to the PFBC (subject to veto by the legislature) to set license and registration fees, beginning July 1 with the earliest potential change of fees being the start of the 2022 season. Fishing license prices have not risen in over 15 years. The Act also expands use of the Lake Erie funds for uses other than access and habitat.

• Act 39 improved the ability of PFBC to require signage and buoys to mark low head dams for public safety, and help with enforcement.

• Act 40, Comprehensive Boater Safety bill, improved enforcement and penalties for boating under the influence and allows the PFBC to collect restitution for damage to properties.

• Act 90, Labor Act 111, extended coverages for WCOs to be on par with other state law enforcement agencies. Proposed legislation changes for 2021 includes the following:

• Changing the boat registration expirations from March 31 to calendar year basis to eliminate confusion and unnecessary enforcement stops.

• Allowing the PFBC to grant license exemptions for therapeutic recreation programs.

• Giving the PFBC authority to regulate exotic species, such as reptiles and amphibians, and control movement of fish and aquatic invasive species, with stringent penalties.

On additional matters, the PFBC graduated a new class of 19 WCOs. They still have vacancies to fill, and 6 cadets are now in training, helped by the new policy which does not require trainees to repeat Act 120 training if already taken.

The new Strategic Plan was approved by the PFBC, and staff is using it. They are tracking spending and progress in implementing the Plan recommendations.

The PFBC continues its commitment to the Unassessed Waters program to identify streams with wild trout. Schaeffer said that there is a goal to survey at least 500 streams annually. Jason Detar indicated that Bob Weber who led the program has retired and his replacement will be named soon. A suggestion was made that more colleges in southern Pennsylvania be encouraged to partner in the program to handle assessments in that portion of the state.

A Trout Plan was completed a few months ago and is available for view on the PFBC website. Schaeffer thanked Greg Malaska and staff of PA Trout Unlimited (PATU) for their help with the Plan. As a followup to the successful Wild Trout Summit held a couple of years ago, the PFBC convened a Statewide Fisheries Summit last Saturday focusing on all the fishing resources and species. Additionally, in order to replace cancelled outdoor shows, the PFBC is now doing a virtual Outdoor Expo, including popular programs about kayaking and kayak fishing; information can be found on PFBC’s website.

The PFBC has launched a new automated licensing system in cooperation with the PA Game Commission, called Hunt Fish PA. It is intended to be more user friendly and intuitive. Licenses can be purchased and Susquehanna Chapter Trout Unlimited Meeting saved through smart phones and are no longer required to be displayed. Voluntary permits and senior licenses are also available online. Hussar stated that one of the benefits of the new system is that the PFBC can mine demographic data from the system. Schaeffer said it will help with marketing and gives the PFBC email addresses for better communication with anglers. The new system has an auto-renew option. He welcomes any feedback to improve the system.

Trout season opens statewide April 3 again this year in order to spread out opening day pressure, minimize travel, reduce crowds due to the ongoing COVID pandemic. It also added the benefit of having two more weeks of trout season. The PFBC consulted with a number of state agencies including the Department of Health as well as the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) on the early opener. During 2020 fishing license sales were up 20% and launch permits up 40% from the previous year as the public used fishing and boating as a relief valve from COVID pandemic pressures.

Trout stocking started Feb. 15. Local sportsmen’s clubs can help WCOs with the stocking, but the PFBC is still not allowing general public assistance due to COVID issues. Stocking schedules will be available again online as the public is now accustomed to social distancing and less likely to gather in crowds during stockings. The Mentored Youth Day which allows youth to fish the weekend prior to opening day is back on this year. Youth licenses purchased last year will be valid for this year’s program.

Gov. Tom Wolf released $23.8 million to repair high-hazard dams which the PFBC is matching with $20 million of PFBC boat funds. The dam at Rose Valley is being proactively evaluated for rehabilitation because it is nearing the end of its 50-year life and bringing the structure to new standards before it becomes a problem will minimize the time it is out of service. A consultant has been hired and design of the project will be completed in 2022. Construction is estimated to begin in the summer of 2024 with completion by spring of 2026. The recreation value will be lost for only 1 1/2 years. The project cost is estimated at $5 million. During the draw-down, fish will be salvaged and moved to area waters.

Following completion of the new dam, the PFBC will repopulate fish in the lake. Schaeffer said there will be a good opportunity for local groups, such as the Williamsport High School Fly Fishing Club, to help in projects during the drawdown such as installing habitat structures in the lake before it is filled back up again.

On a question on the status of the Muncy boat access, Schaeffer gave thanks to State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Pennsdale, and State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township for their help in securing the release of funding for a new river access which will be just downstream of the closed access at the Muncy bridge. Design is being finalized and construction will be in the summer of 2022 with completion scheduled for fall of 2022.

The PFBC administers a boating facilities matching grant program which can be used for new boat launches, such as those for kayaks, so long as there is public access provided. It was reported the Loyalsock Creek Watershed Association is considering a primitive boat launch on Loyalsock Creek near the Barbours bridge. Also, there is another potential access on land at the former Little League Camp property which is up for sale. Schaeffer said he will convey contact information for PFBC staff that could help work proactively on launch location and funding.

Detar responded to questions about ongoing monitoring of the water quality and fish in Class A and Wild Trout streams and he said such monitoring is done under their Trout Management Plan. Continued monitoring is needed to better understand trends (including declines) in trout populations, and to develop remediation strategies and address problems.

Detar was asked why Penns Creek and other Class A tour streams are stocked. Detar explained 13 Class A stream sections are stocked including one section of Penns Creek, which has high angler use. There was a comment the PFBC should consider not stocking Class A streams and reducing the creel limits on trout in these streams. It was further suggested stocked rainbow trout could be put in non-Class A streams segments of Loyalsock or Lycoming Creeks instead of Penns Creek.

Detar responded to a TU question submitted prior to the meeting about the effect of drought on trout populations. He said from June until the 2020 Christmas Day flood, streams in the region were impacted by very low flows. The flood occurred at a bad time of year in that it may have resulted in the loss of eggs in redds, reducing the next year class recruitment. The impact may be better understood after field sampling this year. But he said in general, low water has the greatest impact on marginal trout streams, with temperature as the main limiting factor. Forested watersheds are much less susceptible to severe variability in stream flows and conditions related to climate change, which speaks to their importance in protecting habitat and water quality.

There was a question about PFBC’s commitment to protecting wild trout. Detar responded that there are over 23 wild trout issues and 52 strategies in the Trout Management Plan. A few of the recommendations include documentation and monitoring of new wild trout waters, increasing minimum length, and new slot limit regulations to encourage more spawning (e.g. on Penns Creek). The PFBC was commended and thanked for their work on behalf of protecting and enhancing wild trout populations.

Jacob Bennett, Waterways Conservation Officer (WCO), commented the changes in Penns Creek regulations and stocking of the downstream section have been generally well received. Bennett said that he has not had any problems and anglers fishing that section of Penns Creek tend to be compliant and self policing and really care about the resource.

The PFBC was thanked for the great redband rainbow trout from Tylersville and Beaver Spring that they have stocked in the Keystone Select area on Loyalsock Creek. In response to a question about access to that stretch one mile up into Sullivan County and “no fishing” signs there, WCO Darrell Miller said he will be working with local landowners on access issues. It was also suggested that the upper limit of trout stocking on the Loyalsock be extended to above the Rock Run bridge into a good habitat area. Detar responded that they would like to extend the stocking area although access would need to be evaluated.

The next Susquehanna TU Chapter meeting will be on Zoom on March 10 and will focus on findings and recommendations from the upper Loyalsock Creek AMD Remediation Study. Shawn Rummell of Trout Unlimited and Neil Wolfe of Hedin Environmental will give a presentation summarizing the report. The Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR), Loyalsock Watershed Association, Lycoming College Clean Water Institute, Susquehanna University Freshwater Research Institute, and others will also be invited to participate.

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