Stocked trout report delayed by PF&BC

Harrisburg – There’s probably no single image so closely
associated with the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission – among
serious and casual anglers alike – than its trout-stocking
program.

But is that program cost-effective?

We’re going to have to wait a little longer to find out.

Last summer, commissioners asked their staff to figure out just
how much it costs to raise and stock a fish. That request was made
in light of a trout-movement study that showed many stocked trout
were swimming away before the season opened.

Some streams saw 80 percent or more of the fish missing from
where they had been stocked when those areas were surveyed a week
later. In fact, streams were labeled – by commission staff – as
having good retention if they kept just four of every 10 fish
stocked.

That doesn’t mean the fish disappeared completely. They may have
simply swum further than 300 meters from the stocking point,
officials were quick to point out.

But they weren’t where the commission told anglers they were
either.

That prompted commissioners to seek a cost-benefit analysis of
the program. The goal was to measure just how effectively the
commission is spending its money.

That answer was due to be presented when Fish & Boat
commissioners gather in Harrisburg Jan. 29 and 30.

That’s not going to happen, though. Leroy Young, director of the
commission’s bureau of fisheries, said commissioners and executive
director Doug Austen will have a draft report on trout costs by
then. But a final report – one available to the public – won’t be
ready until perhaps April.

“We’ve had to go through and try to break out from our staff how
much time they spend on stocked trout,” Young said. “And the
accounting of all that is not easy.”

It is easy to determine how much the commission spends on trout
feed, for example, he said. But determining what percentage of a
biologist’s time is spent on stocked trout versus warmwater species
is more difficult. Likewise, staff in the engineering, habitat and
permitting departments spend time on all kinds of projects – some
related to stocked trout, others not – and separating that has
proven challenging, Young explained.

“It’s taking some time to get all of that together,” he
said.

What commissioners think of the delay is unclear. Commissioner
Bill Sabatose, of Jefferson County, did not return a call seeking
comment.

But there’s no doubt the trout program is the commission’s most
costly endeavor.

In the annual report provided to lawmakers on the House Game and
Fisheries Committee last year, the commission estimated spending
nearly $7.2 million to raise and stock trout in 2006-07. That would
have been about 16 percent of all its spending that year, based on
a $49.7 million budget.

That figure – which equates to $2.14 per fish – takes in only
direct operating costs such as feed, electricity to run the
hatcheries and gasoline for the stocking trucks, though, Young
said.

At the same time, the commission is trying to determine the
benefits of stocked trout, Young said.

To say how much it costs to raise fish is one thing, he said.
But to put that into perspective, the commission also wants to be
able to tell how much it gets for its fish.

Agency staff is trying to determine the benefits – to anglers,
to local economies, and to the state as a whole – of stocking
fish.

The commission can tell how many trout stamps it sells each
year, Young said. But it wants to get a handle, too, on how much
stocked trout contribute in terms of angler lodging, travel and
equipment purchases.

The commission has never before factored so much information in
when discussing the costs and benefits of its trout program, so
this report – when finally ready – should be enlightening, Young
said.

“We’ve never, to my knowledge, done anything this comprehensive,
looking at the whole scope of everything,” he said.

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