Pennsylvania's anglers may see something unfamiliar the next time they take to the water.

For the folks that have been fishing all their lives, it may cause a double take. They very well might see a youngster with a fishing license.

Earlier this month, the Fish and Boat Commission voted to create a voluntary youth license. The key word is "voluntary." Anglers 15 years old and younger still do not need a license to fish in Commonwealth waters. But they can buy one if they want.

Naturally, we all ask the same question. Why in the world will anybody want to buy a voluntary license?

Some folks may do it for nostalgic reasons. Others may do it because it makes them feel like part of the "club." But most voluntary license buyers will do it for a simple reason money.

You see, for every license the Fish and Boat Commission sells, the federal government writes a check. And in the case of these new youth fishing licenses, it's a good-sized check. In essence, it's a simple way for anglers to double their "donation" to the agency.

Here's how it works. The actual price of the youth license is just $1, but after adding agent and transaction fees (which go to the company that sells the license), the total cost is $2.70. But for every license sold, the commission receives a check for roughly $5 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Sport Fish Restoration Act program.


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For anglers looking to help a cash-strapped agency, it's a very simple and very effective way to do it. Plus, it helps the state's youngest anglers get deeper involved in the sport. With the ranks of young anglers dwindling — down to just 365,000 youth anglers in 2010 — getting kids on the water is a high priority for the state.

"Increasing youth and family participation in fishing, boating and conservation programs has always been part of our strategic plan," said Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway. "This goal responds to the fact that the percentage of children and young adults ages 6 to 15 who fished in Pennsylvania in 2010 was only 24 percent, as compared to 37 percent in 2005 and 41 percent in 1995. We want to continue to refine and develop programs to engage kids."

It's important to note the funds received from these new youth licenses can't be spent on just anything. The money must be used on programs designed to enhance youth fishing opportunities and participation.

"I want to emphasize that this is purely a voluntary youth license, and it is not required for kids to fish," Arway said. "If just 25 percent of those 367,000 children were to purchase a voluntary $1 license, it would result in more than $550,000 in revenue for the Commission to invest in youth programs."

Again, this is one of those ideas that make us think twice. It may not make sense at first, but ponder the idea a bit and it becomes clear this is a smart move. It's an effective way to combat a problem that could affect our sport for generations.

— Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sports@yorkdispatch.com.