Under pressure to fund employee health care and retirement obligations and pay for growing infrastructure needs, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will close two coldwater hatcheries as part of a plan to shave $9 million from its $60 million annual budget.
At its quarterly meeting last week, executive director John Arway said the agency planned to close its Oswayo trout hatchery in Potter County and its Bellefonte hatchery in Centre County, at a combined savings of $2 million. Together the operations produce about 785,000 brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow trout that will not be replaced in the stocking program.
"Fishing license sales have steadily declined since 1990, while at the same time operating costs have continued to increase, including the price of fish food," Arway said in a prepared statement. "As a result, we must streamline our operations and reduce operating costs in order to maintain a sound financial condition while we attempt to secure long-term, dedicated alternative funding."
About 67 percent of the agency's budget is raised through license fees. New multi-year license sales are expected to generate some new revenues. About 15 percent of the budget comes from federal Dingell-Johnson Act taxes on fishing-related equipment, and the agency gets another $1 million from federal wildlife grants. New money is in the pipeline from shale gas leases, but with far less property to lease than the Game Commission and water-quality oversight demands, resources are limited.
The hatchery closures and reductions to the stocking budget will occur in 2014.
Dave Miko, fisheries division chief, said his team is still in the first stages of planning ways to significantly decrease stocking without significantly decreasing angler enjoyment.
"There are some things we were already starting to do to make the program more efficient," he said. "We're looking now at how to cut [stocking] in the ways that make the most sense."
Sections of Approved Trout Waters have been categorized according to angler use. Thirty angler trips on opening weekend would be considered "low angler use," Miko said. A "medium angler use" area would be a popular destination marked by ample parking. "High angler use" would be an urban or suburban waterway with lots of parking spaces.
"Many of our waters will receive no reductions in fish," Miko said. "We're looking at service areas with three or four low-efficiency waters where we may cut two or three of them to put more emphasis on one or two streams."
No specific waters have been targeted to date, he said.
Sports show, gun rights
Since the cancellation of Harrisburg's Eastern Sports and Outdoors show, following a vendor and sponsor boycott protesting the event's ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles, many exhibitors are scrambling for table space at the Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoors Show (Feb. 13-17, Monroville Convention Center) and Washington County Sport Show (Feb 7-10, Washington Crowne Center).
The Monroeville show is booked up, but space is available in Washington (724-586-5937).
For the record, Allegheny Sport Show promoter Chris Fassnacht said Monroeville Convention Center owners decided years ago to keep all guns out of the outdoors show and invite gun dealers and buyers to the venue for four annual gun shows.
This year the Monroeville gun shows will be held Saturday and next Sunday, April 27-28, Oct. 26-27 and Nov. 30-Dec. 1.
Shaler youth fishing
A new fishing area for children will debut in Shaler. Township manager Tim Rogers said the board approved a plan last week to work with Penn's Woods West Trout Unlimited to stock trout in a section of Little Pine Creek in Fawcett Fields Park and designate it as a children's fishing area open to kids 12 years old and younger.
Stream improvements were paid for through a $144,000 grant obtained by the TU chapter. About 200 trout will be purchased with a grant from the Allegheny County Conservation District.
The township will provide security and comfort stations at an April 13 debut event. All Fish and Boat Commission rules will apply and kids must be accompanied by an adult.
Rogers said the new fishing area will be good for the community.
"It's good for kids to learn how to fish properly and to have an event that will open that opportunity to them," he said. "It'll be stocked. There's some likelihood they'll pull some fish from the stream."