Friday, February 3rd, 2023
Friday, February 3rd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Bill to counter PF&BC policy

Harrisburg – A new “resource-first” policy adopted by
Pennsylvania Fish & Boat commissioners this summer so troubled
a state lawmaker that he introduced a bill in early July to thwart
it.

Worried that the policy would set off “trout wars” if it leads
to sharply reduced trout stocking across the state, Rep. Ed
Staback, D-Lackawanna and Wayne counties, introduced House Bill
2672.

The measure requires Fish & Boat commissioners to consider
not just scientific, but also social, economic and recreational
aspects in any decision they make regarding fisheries – especially
trout stocking.

“Two things made me concerned – I received a notification
regarding this new resource-first policy from the commission and I
read the story in Pennsylvania Outdoor News,” said Staback,
chairman of the House Game and Fisheries Committee.

“The more I read about it, the more I became convinced the fish
commissioners were going to start making decisions on trout
stocking based on science alone.

“‘For God’s sake,’ I am thinking, if that is going to be the
case, we have so many streams across the state that have at least
some wild trout. If they stop stocking all those streams, that is
going to be a disaster. We really might have trout wars.”

Staback’s bill would amend Title 30 of the Pennsylvania
Consolidated Statutes, modifying the section that specifies guiding
principles in fisheries and aquatic-resource-management
decisions.

According to the bill, the law would be amended by adding a
section that states: “The commission shall be guided by the
principles of best-management practices utilizing scientific
analysis supported by verifiable data with equal regard for the
social, economic and recreational impacts of its decisions.”

“Don’t misunderstand, I think science is good in fisheries
management, but it is not everything,” Staback said. “Considering
just science will create a hornets’ nest, and we don’t need
that.

“We don’t need trout wars in addition to deer wars in this
state. Besides, if the Fish & Boat Commission would suddenly
stop stocking streams they have stocked for years, it will cause a
dramatic drop in fishing license sales.”

Fish & Boat Commissioner Bob Bachman, of Lancaster County,
recently characterized the new resource-first policy as, “It’s the
fish, stupid.”

“We are going to stop managing the fish for the fishermen, and
manage the fishermen for the fish,” he said at a meeting in June.
“What this means is that the Fish & Boat Commission will stop
operating like a public parks department and start acting like a
real resource-management agency. Because, at the end of the day, if
you don’t conserve the habitat, you can’t have good fishing.”

But Staback doesn’t think that’s such a good idea.

“I wouldn’t say my bill will stop commissioners from going too
far, but it will just make sure they consider the social, economic
and recreational aspects in their decision-making process,” he
said. “We just want to be sure that they make their decisions based
at least partly on nonscientific aspects from information that they
collect.

Fish & Boat Commissioner Bill Worobec, of Williamsport, who
wrote the resource-first policy, said he was shocked to come home
from vacation a few weeks ago and find that people were talking
about ‘trout wars'”.

“I was very disappointed to hear that, but legislators are
concerned and I can understand why – the last thing they need is
another war,” he said. “Frankly I never expected anyone to equate
our resource-first policy with the deer wars.”

But he was quick to point out that the resource-first policy
affects much more than trout at the agency.

“This is not a policy to eliminate hatcheries and stocking, nor
is it a wild-fish-only policy – instead it really is a policy to
allow us to deal with today’s economic realities and get as many
people fishing as possible for different kinds of fish.

“We need to optimize our resources by using more science than we
have had before,” Worobec added.

Worobec expressed dismay that Staback and other lawmakers would
introduce a bill without meeting with Fish & Boat commissioners
to hear about strategies and expected outcomes resulting from the
resource-first policy. He offered to meet with lawmakers at their
convenience.

Staback, however, predicted his bill, and a companion measure,
HB 2381 (introduced by Mike Hanna, D-Centre and Clinton counties,
which would make identical demands of the game commissioners when
making decisions) would be approved by the General Assembly before
the end of the year.

“Mike’s (Hanna’s) bill has been ready to go for weeks,” Staback
said. “This just seemed like the logical thing to do. If we are
going to require the Game Commission to consider social, economic
and recreational aspects, then it is only reasonable to hold the
Fish & Boat Commission to the same standard.

“In the fall, we will run both of these bills out – there is
just no time now because the leadership doesn’t want to deal with
anything that is not budget-related before the break,” Staback
said.

“We will get them voted on by the full House and Senate in
September or October. I don’t see any difficulty. Neither bill is
controversial and neither of the agencies have expressed any
opposition to either bill.”

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