The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 16, 2013

Don Steese column: Fishing for cuts

Few things surprise me anymore, but the fact that we’re losing anglers here in the Keystone state kinda does.

I long ago came to grips with the fact that we were losing hunters at a rapid clip — the reasons for that are many and varied including single-parent families with no male as the head of the household, the feeling by many that the deer herd has been reduced to the point where it’s not worth it to get a license anymore, computer games and other indoor distractions, and just a general move away from our rural roots. Then there’s the anti-hunting influences that have been gaining strength in recent years. All these things don’t bode well for the future of hunting either here in Pennsylvania or in the nation as a whole. However, I always figured that fishing was a whole other ballgame.

Apparently not.

What brought all this to mind is the fact that the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission recently announced that plans to reduce operating costs by $9 million over the next four years in order to meet future health-care and retirement obligations for its employees and to fund infrastructure needs. Part of the cost savings will come from closing two trout hatcheries, a move expected to save about $2 million.

The hatcheries scheduled to be closed are Osweyo in Coudersport and the Bellefonte hatchery. Employees at the two hatcheries will be offered jobs at other PFBC facilities. The commission says that they chose these two hatcheries for closing because they are the ones that would affect the number of trout the commission stocks the least.

According to commission Executive Director John Arway, license sales have been in decline since 1990.

“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.” Arway said. “As part of this process, we evaluated our 14 production sites and determined that closing these two trout hatcheries would have the least impact on the number of trout stocked.”  

I’d be interested to find out what “alternative funding” options the commission is hoping for.

The decision to close the two hatcheries is one part of a plan to reduce operating costs across all PFBC bureaus by a total of $9 million by the 2016-17 fiscal year. About $6.7 million is needed for employee health care and retirement benefits and $2.3 million for infrastructure needs, like maintenance and repairs, at remaining hatcheries and other facilities and boating access areas.

It’s long been known that trout stocking is the commission’s most expensive program. Many have argued for years that Pennsylvania spends far too much money on providing put-and-take trout fishing and that the money spent on our massive stocking program could be put to better use for things like improving water quality to benefit wild trout populations.

Those on the other side have argued that the trout stocking program sells fishing licenses. Anglers on both sides of the issue have a point. We still stock a ton of trout here in Pennsylvania as license sales continue to slide. Will the stocking of fewer fish exacerbate the problem? That remains to be seen, but like every business or government agency, the PFBC has to find savings where it can and the trout stocking program is certainly a place where savings can be made.

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