PF&BC acts affect trout, muskies, pike and youth

By Bob Frye Capital Correspondent

Trout, muskies, pike, life jackets, junior fishing licenses –
the most recent meeting of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat
Commission had it all.

Commissioners made final decisions on some topics, prepared to
take action on several others, and decided to seek public comment
on still others.

In regards to trout, commissioners agreed to open trout season
on the first Saturday after March 28 in 18 counties in southeastern
Pennsylvania next year:. They are Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester,
Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster,
Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadel-phia,
Schuylkill, and York counties.

Those counties warm up significantly earlier than the rest of
the state, and commissioners want to get anglers after trout as
soon as the weather breaks, hence the change.

Opening day will remain unchanged in the rest of the state. It
will open on the first Saturday after April 11.

Commissioners are still working on changing the seasons for
muskies, pike and pickerel, though. They gave final approval to a
proposal that will allow for year-round fishing for all three
species on most waters beginning in 2007 albeit with some
changes.

The minimum size for a legal muskie was bumped from 30 to 40
inches, for example. On “enhanced” muskie lakes – which will be
identified later – the minimum size for a legal fish will be 45
inches. In all cases, anglers will be allowed to keep one fish per
day.

The limit for northern pike will remain at two fish of at least
24 inches in length, while the limits for pickerel will be a
maximum of four fish at least 18 inches long.

Where commissioners veered from staff’s recommendations was in
regards to when anglers can keep muskies, pike and pickerel.

Staff had recommended that anglers be limited to catch-and-
release fishing from April 1 through May 31 on all waters across
the state. That would have been easy for anglers to understand,
Rick Hoopes, chief of the bureau of fisheries, said, and solved a
problem tied to federal regulations.

The commission collects 150 or so brood fish from a handful of
lakes during that time to gather eggs for producing hatchery
muskies and pike. Those fish are treated with a chemical
antibiotic. Food and Drug Administration rules prohibit the
commission from releasing those fish back into waters where they
may be caught and consumed until 21 days after they’ve been
treated.

The would have solved that issue, Hoopes said.

Commissioner Don Anderson, of Somerset County, worried that
prohibiting anglers from keeping a muskie or pike during the
proposed catch-and-release period — which would have extended the
no-harvest period on muskies, pike and pickerel by just two weeks
over the current closed season — would do more harm than good,
however.

“I think there’s something better we can do here. I don’t see
this helping us,” he said.

After some discussion, staff recommended creating a “brood stock
lake” program where fishing for muskies, muskie hybrids, pike and
pickerel will be on a catch-and-release-only basis April 1 through
May 31. On all other lakes in the state, anglers will be able to
harvest muskies, pike and pickerel year-round.

The agency plans to seek public comment on the idea. Any lakes
added to the brood stock program will be identified later.

Commissioners will also be seeking comment on a set of proposals
related to life jackets and small boats.

From 1996 through 2005, 114 people lost their lives in
recreational boating accidents in Pennsylvania. A
“disproportionate” number of those people – 48, or 42 percent –
died between Oct. 1 and May 31. Forty-five of those 48 people – or
94 percent – were aboard unpowered boats and/or boats less than 16
feet in length.

In an attempt to prevent those kinds of fatalities,
commissioners are considering two proposals. One would make it
mandatory for boaters operating canoes, kayaks and all other boats
less than 16 feet in length to wear a personal flotation device any
time they were on the water year-round. The other proposal would
require those boaters to wear a life jacket when boating between
Oct. 1 and May 31.

Fish & Boat Commission officials believe the changes are
needed for safety’s sake. Dan Martin, the agency’s boating safety
director, said a regulation requiring life jackets to be worn on
small boats during the cold-winter months alone would have saved 15
lives over the last 10 years.

“Very few of the regulations we pass in boating would save 1.5
lives a year,” Martin said. “And we’ve passed a lot of regulations
since I’ve been here.”

The commission will announce in the coming weeks how boaters can
comment on the idea of requiring life jackets year-round or during
the cold-weather months. Commissioners said they will review that
information before making any decisions.

In the meantime, the commission will be seeking legislative
support for the agency’s first-ever junior fishing license. Plans
are to have it cost $5 and be required of all children ages 12 to
15. The license would carry with it all the privileges of a
license, trout stamp and Lake Erie permit.

Doug Austen, executive director of the commission, said creation
of the license would actually help to get kids involved in fishing
by funding learn-to-fish programs and fishing skills clinics .

It’s important that the commission be proactive in sponsoring
such activities because some recent survey work shows that children
become anglers or at least develop an appreciation for aquatic
resources at an early age, he noted.

Telephone surveys of young anglers and adult fishermen across
the state that was done in June and July revealed that 64 percent
of fishermen got involved in the sport by the time they were 8
years old. Ninety percent were fishing by the time they were
12.

The same survey found that nearly three quarters of kids ages 12
to 16 are involved in organized sports, though. If the commission
wants to get those same kids involved in fishing, it has to be
proactive and go after them aggressively, Austen said.

“We have to fit this into the social network we have right now,”
Austen said.

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