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Board of Commissioners Reaffirms Budget Decision

HARRISBURG, Pa. – At its quarterly business meeting held here today, the Pennsylvania Board of Fish and Boat Commissioners reaffirmed its decision from last fall to reduce spending by $2 million beginning in July if the General Assembly does not act on legislation to raise license fees.

The statement by the Board comes as a fifth newspaper – the Erie Times-News – issued a formal opinion last week supporting the PFBC and calling on legislators to approve an increase in license fees, which haven’t risen in 13 years. The editorial boards of four other newspapers – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (2/13), Scranton Times-Tribune (3/20), Lewistown Sentinel (3/23), and Harrisburg Patriot-News (4/12) – have also issued opinions supporting the agency’s request for financial relief.

“We have tried for the last four years to impress upon the General Assembly the need for a license fee increase, but legislation has stalled each time in the House of Representatives,” said Board President Rocco Ali. “We are now at a crisis point and must proceed with the plans to cut costs beginning in July.”

The current plan for achieving the $2 million reduction in operating expenses would involve closing two warmwater hatcheries and one trout hatchery. The plan would reduce the number of trout stocked in 2019 by 7.5 percent and would result in severe reductions to the PFBC’s cooperative nursery program.

“The price of a general fishing license was last raised in 2005,” added PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “Since then, we have continued to provide the same level of services to our customers while seeking an increase from the General Assembly. Just last week, another editorial board came out and said our arguments for an increase are justified. But unless legislators act, we must cut expenses to remain financially solvent.”

In official action today, the Board voted to acquire three properties and an easement on a fourth one in Erie County, further expanding angler access to popular steelhead streams.

“Northwestern Pennsylvania is known as the ‘Fishing Capital’ of the state, and the steelhead fishery is a key component, generating tremendous economic benefits to the region,” said Arway. “When we survey anglers, they often say they want more access to streams. Today’s action helps meet that goal by providing additional access to Elk, Crooked and Conneaut creeks.”

As part of the first acquisition, the Lake Erie Region Conservancy has applied for grant funding to acquire 181.2 acres along Elk Creek in Girard Township, Erie County, for $911,000 and then transfer ownership to the PFBC. The property, known as the Gilmore Farm, provides access to approximately 6,325 linear feet (1.2 miles) of frontage along Elk Creek. The property is located immediately south of Interstate 90 off Beckman Road.

The conservancy has applied to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources for half of the cost, plus acquisition fees. To complete the transaction, the Board of Commissioners approved a grant to the conservancy for an amount not to exceed $460,943.

The second acquisition involves the purchase of 8.27 acres in Springfield Township, Erie County, for $176,000. The property provides access to approximately 1,300 linear feet (0.25 miles) on Crooked Creek and is located at the intersection of Happy Valley Road and Lucas Road near East Springfield.

The third property contains 8 acres and approximately 1,165 linear feet (0.22 miles) of frontage on Conneaut Creek in West Springfield Township, Erie County. The PFBC will purchase it for $24,500. The property is located off Griffey Road near West Springfield.

As part of the fourth acquisition, the PFBC will pay $11,500 for an easement on 760 linear feet (0.15 miles) of Elk Creek on a property in Fairview Township, Erie County. The easement area is located off Luther Road downstream of the Route 98 bridge over Elk Creek.

To date, the PFBC has acquired more than 22.5 miles of public fishing access in the Erie watershed through easements and land purchases under the Erie Access Improvement Program. The program uses proceeds from the special Lake Erie permits to improve access and habitat.

In other action, Commissioners added 99 waters to the list of wild trout streams and revised the section limit of one water. The list can be found on the PFBC website.

Another 38 stream sections were added to the list of Class A wild trout streams. The list can be found on the PFBC website.

Also, Commissioners approved the designation of Shenango River Lake in Mercer County as a panfish enhancement water for crappies. The change reduces the creel limit from 50 to 20 per day and creates a 9-inch minimum size. The change is intended to boost the population of white crappie, which has been decreasing since 2010, and increase the size of both black and white crappies.

A 2017 survey of 138 anglers showed that 89% of those who identified themselves as crappie anglers preferred the 9-inch minimum size limit and 71% preferred a 20 per day creel limit. The change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Commissioners also voted to remove panfish enhancement regulations from Lake Chillisquaque, a 165-acre impoundment in Montour County, after surveys showed that the rules weren’t increasing the population and size of crappie and sunfish as expected. The lake will now be managed under inland water regulations, which allow anglers to keep 50 fish per day with no size limitations. The change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

In Luzerne County, the board approved a land transfer with the Department of Military Affairs for a property in West Pittston Borough which will serve as a PFBC regional office once renovations are completed. The 3.33-acre property is located at 1308 Susquehanna Avenue and was used as an Army National Guard Center until 2016. The property will be renovated with $1.2 million in capital budget funds released by Gov. Tom Wolf. The PFBC expects to relocate staff from its Sweet Valley office to the new building in late 2021.

In Juniata County, Commissioners approved a right-of-way to the Department of Transportation (PennDOT) for a bridge replacement project that crosses the northwest corner of the PFBC’s Mifflintown access area. The access runs along the Juniata River and Horning Run and is located about 1.5 miles down river from the end of the Lewistown Narrows. It has a paved access drive, paved parking lot and a concrete boat ramp.

PennDOT expects to replace the State Route 3002 bridge over Horning Run during the 2018-19 construction season. The project won’t affect the access area, but during construction anglers and boaters will only be able to enter from SR 3002 south.