The 20th Annual William Shaffer “Kids Hooked On Fishing” Trout Derby at Kiwanis Lake in York City, Saturday, March 31, 2018.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission might want to consider a name change that puts “boat” before “fish.”
While fishing license sales have slumped, look what has happened to sales of launch permits for boats.
In the first sale in 2002, boaters bought 1,524 permits.
Sales rose to 29,219 by 2010.
Last year, sales hit 108,439.
The surge contrasts to a slump in license sales that the commission and its brother agency, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, have been noticing for years and mentioned again last week in annual reports.
Lagging sales and static prices force both commissions to confront looming deficits as they manage land, water and creatures that Pennsylvanians value, even if they don’t buy licenses.
While pensions, health care and other expenses continue to rise, license prices haven’t moved in years.
For Pennsylvania adults, excluding processing fees, hunting licenses have cost $19 since 1999. Fishing license prices have held at $21 since 2005.
Trying to cover expenses: To cover expenses, agencies began offering optional licenses, permits and stamps. The Game Commission started selling pheasant stamps last year. Boaters began buying $10 launch permits in 2002, while anglers have purchased stamps, which now cost $9.90, to fish for trout and salmon since 1991.
Trout and pheasant stamps help pay for stocking programs that are vulnerable to budget cuts.
The Game Commission closed two pheasant farms in 2016, and the Fish Commission is poised to close a trout hatchery and two other hatcheries next year.
Plan backfires: An idea to stock fewer trout in districts of lawmakers who voted against higher license prices backfired.
House members introduced a bill to remove the commission’s executive director, John Arway, who apologized shortly after floating the plan. A bill to increase fishing license prices died in a House committee last week, although the Senate favored an increase.
Tapping into reserves? Some lawmakers think the Fish Commission could tap into reserves, which are about as large as its annual budget, to cover costs.
Arway replied that the commission, which serves 1.1 million anglers and nearly 3 million boaters, wants to spend no more than it earns. Spending reserves would in five years deplete funds, which are for projects such as repairs to dams that he authorized last week.
State starts audits: Meanwhile, the state started auditing the Game Commission last month, not just because of finances.
An ex-bureau chief paid an ethics fine two years ago for negotiating private gas leases, and lawmakers think declines in deer and grouse discourage license sales.
West Nile virus affects 24 percent of grouse. Deer in three areas of the state are under quarantine for chronic wasting disease, which also can spread to the state’s 1,000 elk.
Although hunting license sales began slipping in 1981, Pennsylvania still has more turkey and bear hunters and furtakers than any state.
While only 118 people won licenses last year to hunt elk, about 200,000 people drove to Benezette Township, Elk County, to watch them.
Deriving pleasure from outdoors: The interest in watching, photographing and painting wildlife as well as hiking and bicycling indicate the value that Pennsylvanians derive from being outdoors. Not all of them buy licenses, but license sales paid for state gamelands that are open to the public.
Likewise, the jump in boat launch permits show that people want to be by the water, even if they don’t fish.
The launches are for unpowered boats like kayaks used for sightseeing, camping and fitness, as well as fishing, on lakes and rivers where the Fish and Boat Commission maintains launches and parking lots to give them access.