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PFBC encouraging anglers, boaters to have fun, remain safe the remainder of the season

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission began its quarterly meeting by encouraging anglers and boaters to have fun and remain safe while enjoying the water throughout the remainder of the summer season.

“The summer is a truly special time for individuals, families, and friends to gather for a fishing or boating adventure on a favorite local waterway, or to try somewhere new,” said PFBC executive director Tim Schaeffer. “We’re grateful to everyone who makes safety a priority before and during each trip and follows the rules of the water. Simply put, when you wear your life jacket and boat sober, you’ll set yourself up for a fun day on the water and for many more seasons to come.”

Schaeffer noted that from July 2-4, PFBC Waterways Conservation Officers joined other conservation law enforcement agencies across the country to participate in Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated effort aimed at preventing boating accidents and fatalities through education and enhanced Boating Under the Influence enforcement. This operation resulted in 12 BUI arrests across the Commonwealth.

There have been seven recreational boating fatalities in Pennsylvania so far in 2022. Five victims were not wearing a life jacket.

Law

Enforcement

The Board voted to amend bowfishing regulations. While the use of long bows, crossbows, spears, and gigs used in bowfishing is already regulated within the Pennsylvania Code, these amendments are intended to address an increasing number of complaints to PFBC law enforcement staff regarding the intense lighting and generator noise that can be created by those participating in bowfishing. The changes will prohibit bowfishing on any special regulation trout waters; make it unlawful to cast direct rays of a spotlight, mounted headlight, or any other artificial light of any kind from any watercraft upon any occupied building or another watercraft; and limit noise from generators used aboard a boat while bowfishing to no more than 90 dB(a), which is consistent with regulations for noise produced by motorboats.

In measuring noise emissions, the test measurement will be made with the sound level meter at a distance of at least four feet above the water at a point where the transom gunwale and the port or starboard gunwale intersects. This amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Also related to bowfishing regulations (58 Pa. Code § 63.8), commissioners voted to approve a publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking that would add invasive snakehead fish to the list of approved species that can be targeted with long bows, crossbows, spears, and gigs. Snakeheads are an invasive species that are found in some Commonwealth waters, primarily in the southeast region, but range expansion to new waters across the state threatens popular sport fisheries. Many of the states surrounding Pennsylvania already permit bowfishing as a method for harvesting snakeheads to reduce their impact to the aquatic resources where they reside.

Under this proposal, it would remain unlawful to possess and transport live snakeheads and introduce live snakeheads into Pennsylvania waters. The PFBC recommends that all snakeheads caught should be disposed of properly and not be released. If approved on final rulemaking at a future meeting, the amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

The Board voted to amend regulations pertaining to snatch fishing, foul hooking, and snag fishing (58 Pa. Code § 63.9). Over the last several years, anglers have asked the PFBC whether devices such as trout beads are a legal device for use in Commonwealth waters. These devices consist of a small bead that sits several inches above the hook and generally hook a fish on the outside of the mouth. Under the current regulations, any fish not hooked inside the mouth must be released.

Under this change, regulations would be amended to include language that clarifies that devices such as trout beads are permitted so long as the eye of the hook is no more than two inches below the device. The amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Commissioners voted to amend regulations pertaining to the unlawful taking of fish using nets. In recent years, WCOs have noticed an increase in individuals using nets to attempt to take fish. Under this change, the Pennsylvania Code (58 Pa. Code § 63.5) will be amended to include new language prohibiting the “attempt to take fish” using unauthorized fishing methods.

This change is in response to issues during the steelhead run in the Lake Erie tributaries but would have application in other areas of the state. For consistency, similar language exists in 58 Pa. Code § 63.9 which regulates snatch fishing, foul hooking, and snag fishing. The amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

Commissioners voted to amend regulations pertaining to officially recognized fish cleaning stations (58 Pa. Code § 63.15a). To assist in properly identifying fish species that have already been processed at a non-commercial fish cleaning station, under this amendment, anglers will be required to keep a two-inch-by-two-inch piece of skin on fish fillets and prohibit the chunking of the fillets into pieces. This amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

BOATING

The Board voted to approve the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to electric boat motors. Current regulations limit boat propulsion to electric motors only on PFBC owned or controlled lakes, some State Park lakes, and waterbodies specified in 58 Pa. Code § Chapter 111 relating to special regulation counties.

Due to advancements in technology that have resulted in electric motors capable of very high horsepower and speed similar to gas-powered internal combustion engines, this proposal would amend the following regulations to specify that electric motors may not be operated at greater than slow, no wake speed on select waters.

Additionally, where horsepower limitations are prescribed, they apply to internal combustion (i.e., gas or diesel) motors only. Boaters should note that internal combustion motors attached to or installed in boats do not need to be removed but these motors may not be used on these waters.

• 58 Pa. Code § 107.1 (Horsepower restrictions)

• 58 Pa. Code § 107.2 (Electric motors) Except as otherwise specified in Chapter 111

If adopted on final rulemaking at a future meeting, this amendment will go into effect January 1, 2023.

Commissioners voted to approve changes to fire extinguisher regulations for recreational motorboats. This change, which will bring PFBC regulations in line with updated U.S. Coast Guard rules, will not change which motorboats are required to have fire extinguishers on board, but relieves these recreational vessels from certain inspection, maintenance, and recordkeeping requirements that are more suited for commercial vessels.

The change would also establish that portable fire extinguishers, when required to be carried on recreational motorboats, shall be maintained in “good and serviceable” condition, which is consistent with language in the USCG rules. These changes will go into effect January 1, 2023.

The Board voted to approve changes to several regulations pertaining to boat-towed watersports. Under these changes, language contained within several sections of the Pennsylvania Code would be updated to better reflect current trends and ensure consistency when referring to this type of recreational boating activity.

Upon reviewing model language adopted in 2021 by the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators, the PFBC identified opportunities to update language to better include modern boat-towed watersport activities and devices and clarify the regulations, but not modify currently prohibited or allowable activities.

FISHERIES

Commissioners approved changes to regulations pertaining to the American Shad fishery within the Delaware River, West Branch Delaware River, and River Estuary. Under this change, which is in response to current unsustainable levels of mortality, the daily limit of American Shad within these waters will be reduced from three to two fish.

This reduction is consistent with a decision by the Delaware River Basin Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative, of which Pennsylvania is a member, to reduce shad harvest by approximately 33% for both recreational and commercial fisheries. This change will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

Commissioners voted to approve the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to the Atlantic Striped Bass fishery within the Delaware River, West Branch Delaware River, and River Estuary. Under this proposal, 58 Pa. Code § 61.2Opens In A New Window would be amended to clarify language pertaining to the legal harvestable size range for Striped Bass and prohibit gaffing or the attempt to gaff any Striped Bass when fishing. At its May 2022 quarterly meeting, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission which includes the Commonwealth as a member, approved Amendment 7 to the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Striped Bass.

The most recent Striped Bass stock assessment determined the stock was overfished and that overfishing was occurring. Based on these findings, the ASMFC’s Striped Bass management plan calls for management actions to rebuild the stock. As part of Amendment 7, new requirements were established to address recreational release mortality, among other management plan components. Recreational release mortality is a large component of annual fishing mortality, and Amendment 7 establishes a new gear restriction which prohibits gaffing Striped Bass when fishing recreationally.

This new restriction, along with the existing circle hook requirement when fishing recreationally with bait, are intended to increase the chance of survival after a Striped Bass is released alive. To align with the provisions of Amendment 7, it is recommended to prohibit the use of a gaff when fishing for Striped Bass in the Delaware River, West Branch Delaware River, and River Estuary. If adopted on final rulemaking at a future meeting, this amendment will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

Commissioners approved changes to fishing regulations on Little Chartiers Creek, Section 05, in Washington County. Under this change, Section 05, which runs approximately one-half mile from the outflow of Canonsburg Lake to the confluence with Chartiers Creek, will be removed from the list of waters managed under Miscellaneous Special Regulations.

While Section 05 is not managed by the PFBC as a Stocked Trout Water (STW), a Miscellaneous Special Regulation has been in place since the early 1980s which prohibits angling from the end of the extended season for trout through 8:00 a.m. on the opening day of the regular season for trout, which is typically associated with STWs. Historically, the rationale for this special regulation was to prohibit angling in Section 05 during the closure period following the stocking of trout in Canonsburg Lake, which could escape downstream into Little Chartiers Creek. Escapement of stocked trout created unwanted and disruptive angler behavior in Section 05 and warranted management with these special regulations.

During the annual regulatory review process, Commission staff determined that these regulations are no longer necessary and recommended removal. This change will simplify regulations and increase angling opportunities while continuing to provide adequate resource protection. This amendment will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

The Board approved changes to fishing regulations on Penns Creek, Section 03, a Class A wild trout stream with a robust population of wild Brown Trout in Centre and Mifflin counties. Under this change, a Miscellaneous Special Regulation that has been in place since 2014 will be removed. The current Miscellaneous Special Regulation is an experimental trout slot limit regulation that allowed for year-round fishing, use of all tackle types, and the harvest of two trout per day that are at least seven inches but less than 12 inches in length, from the opening day of the regular season for trout through Labor Day, with no harvest permitted the remainder of the year.

As a result of PFBC surveys from 2014-2019 that revealed the presence of larger Brown Trout (greater than 16 inches in length) and favorable angler feedback during this experimental period, the PFBC created an official Trout Slot Limit program with two subprograms in 2021. Upon removal of the current Miscellaneous Special Regulation, Penns Creek, Section 03, will be proposed for designation into the All-Tackle Trout Slot Limit program at a future meeting of the Board.

It should be noted that while the name of the regulation applied to Penns Creek, Section 03, will change, the regulation itself will remain the same. This change will go into effect on January 1, 2023.

The Board approved the addition of nine stream sections to the list of Class A wild trout streams, and the addition of 19 new waters to the PFBC’s list of wild trout streams. A list of waters proposed for wild trout stream and Class A wild trout stream designation can be found on the PFBC website. The Board also approved the addition of 19 new waters to the list of wilderness trout streams. All of these additions will go into effect upon publication of a second notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

GRANT APPROVAL

Commissioners voted to approve additional funding for an R3 (Recruitment, Retention, and Reactivation) Education Grant to Bartram’s Garden for the purpose of a riverfront recreation project in Philadelphia. While the PFBC originally awarded the grantee funding to expand fishing and boating education efforts in urban communities, additional funding in the amount of $45,000 is necessary to continue these valuable programs. Board approval of grant funding is required under the R3 Education Grant Program when funding exceeds $25,000.

The Board voted to approve an amendment to a previously approved grant to the County of Carbon for a project at Mauch Chunk Lake Park through the PFBC’s Boating Facility Grant Program. While the PFBC originally awarded the grantee $155,500 for a project that included boat launch rehabilitation, parking lot paving, and the addition of ADA compliant restrooms and parking spaces, costs for the project have increased since the original estimate was provided. As a result of the increased costs, the County requested an additional $25,355 to complete the project. Board approval of grant funding is required under the Boating Facility Grant Program when funding exceeds $100,000.

The Board voted to approve additional funding for an Erie Access Improvement Grant to the Erie-Western PA Port Authority for the construction of the Lampe Marina Fish Cleaning Station along Lake Erie, Erie County. While the PFBC originally awarded the grantee $150,000 in April 2021, it was determined that an additional $100,000 was required to complete the project and planned improvements to the design. The revised grant amount includes costs for a larger concrete pad for a second fish cleaning table, water service, wastewater drains, adding a building roof and enclosure with sidewalls to the refrigeration building, and a chain link fence to secure the facility. Board approval of grant funding is required under the Erie Access Improvement Program when funding exceeds $100,000 per year.

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