Officials are considering fishing license proposals

All the rain during the past week found me spending much more time indoors in front of the computer catching up on research and other projects than outside fishing or taking photographs as I usually do this time of year.

While browsing the Internet one morning, I stopped on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission website and reviewed the agenda for the upcoming the agency’s quarterly business meeting scheduled for July 15 and 16. The first item on the list of proposed rulemaking for that meeting caught my interest.

Since 1964, Pennsylvania residents aged 65 and over have been eligible for a reduced price on their fishing licenses, with a senior resident license now costing $11.70 compared to $22.70 for a regular resident fishing license. A senior lifetime fishing license also became available in 1979. One of those lifetime licenses now costs $51.70, allowing those folks who plan to fish for at least five years once they turn 65 the chance to save some money in the process. The concept of a lifetime license for seniors is certainly laudable, except for one aspect. In order for a lifetime license to be valid, the holder of the license must remain a bonafide resident of Pennsylvania. To me, that has always seemed completely unfair.

I have to believe that most folks who buy a senior lifetime license have also been longtime Pennsylvania anglers who have purchased their share of full-priced fishing licenses. And if they were a legitimate Pennsylvania resident when they purchased their lifetime fishing privileges, why would we deny them if they chose to retire and move somewhere else?

They paid their money and if they have the opportunity and desire to return back to Pennsylvania to fish, we should say, “Welcome back.” Are we really that hard up for a few extra license dollars that we need to gouge a grandparent for the pleasure of fishing with his or her grandchildren a day or two a year?

Apparently someone at the Fish and Boat Commission finally thought that through, and the commissioners are scheduled to vote on a proposed amendment that would eliminate that situation. Actually, the problem stemmed from confusion regarding the new multi-year fishing licenses that went into effect this year.

Unlike the senior lifetime license, there was no specific regulation stating a multi-year license became invalid if the holder moved out of Pennsylvania. So rather than adding wording that would invalidate the multi-year license for someone who leaves Pennsylvania, the entire regulation will be changed as follows: “A resident fishing license will remain valid for the year or years for which it is issued regardless of whether the holder is no longer a bona fide resident of this Commonwealth.”

In essence, this change would mean that a senior lifetime fishing license would truly be a lifetime license and a multi-year license buyer would get all the years of fishing privileges he paid for in advance. The commentary provided with the proposed amendment states “that the benefits of providing clarity to anglers and encouraging fishing outweigh any revenue to be gained by requiring license holders to purchase a new fishing license after they change their state of residence.”

I applaud that thinking and find it refreshing that for once one of our fish and game agencies is prepared to do something positive that is not motivated solely by the almighty dollar. If the commissioners give preliminary approval to this proposal at their meeting this week, the measure will have to be voted on at a later meeting, after the required public comment period, for it to take effect.

As a lifelong fisherman and hunter I’ve always been willing and proud to help pay for conservation through all the money I’ve spent for fishing and hunting licenses, especially here in Pennsylvania where our fish and game agencies receive no general tax revenue and are funded largely through license dollars.

On the other hand, it is well past the time for our fish and game agencies to rethink their so-called independent status when it comes to revenue and funding. Operating expenses continue to escalate, with the majority of their budgets consumed by ever-increasing salaries and benefits for personnel, while numbers of license buyers have steadily declined for the past 20 years. Continuing to expect a shrinking customer base to shoulder the entire load is not only unsustainable but also unfair.

Our fish and game agencies manage our natural resources for all citizens. Isn’t it time for them to help pay a little for that too?