State officials striving to retain women anglers
HAZLETON — Only 18 percent of anglers in Pennsylvania are women, and they drop out of the sport faster than men, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission said Wednesday in his annual report to the Legislature.
Chairman John Arway said reasons why 56 percent of women decline to renew fishing licenses from year to year are among the questions that the commission has asked business professors and students to study.
A group from the Smeal College of Business at Penn State University offered to help the commission with its business plan.
“We are a government business. We have to earn our revenue,” Arway said to members of the House Game and Fisheries Committee.
Because the commission, like its counterpart the Pennsylvania Game Commission, gets most of its revenues from license sales and receives no tax dollars, Arway said his agency has been trying to boost sales and trim costs.
He said the agency appointed a coordinator of fishing programs for women and youth; teamed with businesses for giveaways of kayaks, fishing boats and other prizes; started selling multi-year licenses and began releasing trophy trout into select waters, which he said “added an element of excitement to trout fishing.”
The commission holds family fishing days and fish-for-free days and loans fishing tackle to encourage people to try the sport.
Arway also thanked the lawmakers for approving funding to repair 10 high-hazard dams, including five in Wayne County, and thanked private donors who gave $70,000 so far to an effort to revive the diseased population of bass in the Susquehanna River, which the commission matched with $50,000.
The first project financed from the Save Our Susquehanna effort reduced erosion along Limestone Run, a tributary of the river in Montour and Northumberland counties.
He also said the agency will sell old vehicles and other non-performing assets, including property.
Despite those efforts, Arway said the agency, which celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2016, cannot continue its current levels of service unless the lawmakers increase license prices for the first time since 2005.
Reps. Gerald Mullery, D-119, Newport Township, and Dan Moul, R-91, Gettysburg, asked how they could convince voters to support higher license prices.
Arway described personnel cuts that the agency has made, showed graphs of when revenues will lag behind expenses and said all departments would suffer, including law enforcement and hatcheries, which are 50 percent of the budget.
Like Game Commission Director Matt Hough, who testified on Tuesday, Arway said the Fish and Boat Commission would prefer to increase fees gradually each year instead of waiting a decade or more for the lawmakers to approve larger price jumps, which drive away customers. If given authority to set prices, Arway pledged that the commission would stay within prices on a chart that he displayed during his talk. The chart showed the resident license of $21 reaching $29 in 2020 and $31.65 in 2023.
Committee Chairman Keith Gillespie, R-47, York, supports letting the agencies set license fees, and bills giving the agencies that authority passed the Senate but lacked support in the House last year.
Arway said he is committed to spending no more than what the agency earns in a year but wants the lawmakers to let him know whether they will raise license prices.
“Give us certainty and we’ll put together a plan to survive,” said Arway, adding that a trimmed commission “won’t be like today.”
Rep. Michael Pieffer, R-139, Greentown, said in the Pocono areas that he represents, visitors from New York and New Jersey tell him they wish they could buy three-day licenses by phone. The commission sold 24,811 three-day tourist licenses last year.
Arway said buying a license by phone isn’t easy now, but he wants that service available the next time the fish and game commissions enter new contracts with companies that handle license sales.
“If I could turn a switch, I’d love that to happen tomorrow,” Arway said.
Rep. Garth Everett, R-84, Muncy, asked if officers could be trained to work for both the fish and game agencies. Rep. Brian Barbin, D-71, Johnstown, the minority chairman of the committee, asked if the fish and game commissions could share administration, IT services and other departments.
Arway said officers are certified to enforce fish and game laws and conduct some operations together, but training them together would lengthen the one-year school programs that each attend now.
Three years ago, a state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee report said merging the fish and game commissions would cut 53 jobs at a $5 million savings. The agencies, which had total budgets of $159 million last year, told lawmakers then that they could focus on their missions better by remaining separate.
Barbin also talked about the value that fishing provides for people dealing with drug addiction and for veterans faced with post-traumatic stress or brain injury.
Rep. Bud Cook, R-49, Bentleyville, said a school administrator testifying about opioid addiction said programs about trout in the classroom, aquatic life, fishing skills and boating safety provide a hedge against the drug epidemic.