Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

PF&BC to lawmakers: Need annual licenses

Harrisburg – In the year or so after the Pennsylvania Fish &
Boat Commission last raised fishing license fees in 2005, the
agency watched the number of its customers plummet by nearly 10
percent.

The same scenario has played out with the last three license
increases over recent decades. Historically, lawmakers grant
high-percentage license fee increases every eight to 10 years,
followed by a sharp drop in license buyers.

And many of those customers never buy a fishing license again.
It’s a vicious cycle that Doug Austen, commission executive
director, doesn’t think his agency can afford to repeat.

At the Fish & Boat Commission’s late-January quarterly
meeting, Austen proposed a different approach, and the Board of
Commissioners approved.

He was authorized to ask lawmakers, when he presented the
agency’s annual report Feb. 5, to implement annual incremental
increases to fishing-license fees. The commission lacks the
statutory authority to set its own license fees.

“We need to eliminate the boom-and-bust cycle of our license-fee
increases,” Austen said, “instead being able to implement annual,
incremental increases to keep up with the costs of fish feed, fuel
and employee benefits.”

Commissioner Bill Sabatose, of Brockport, Jefferson County,
liked the idea. “We have seen how the license-fee-increase process
works – the agency is starved for revenue, everybody gets in a
panic, and then we lose license buyers afterwards,” he said. “I
would rather see us worried about fishing and boating issues, and
this would allow us to do that.”

With possible annual increases of up to 5 percent, Commissioner
Bob Bachman, of Lancaster, was skeptical that the fishing public
would embrace the concept, or that the lawmakers – who have been
reluctant to give up control of fee increases – would go for the
idea.

He wondered whether the subject should even be discussed this
year. “We are in a recession right now and people are saying, ‘What
do you mean telling us you are raising the cost of fishing licenses
– we are losing our jobs?'” he said.

Still, Commissioner Tom Shetterly, of Charleroi, Washington
County, said the time to ask for such a funding change is now.

“I think you are going to have to do it now, because next year
is an election year,” he said. “It’s pretty tough to get anything
in an election year.”

The resolution passed by the commissioners authorizing Austen to
ask lawmakers for annual, incremental funding increases also
included a line reaffirming their support for the creation of a
youth fishing license. That controversial concept would bring in
matching federal revenue for the agency to use promoting and
enhancing youth-fishing opportunities.

“One thing I have been wrestling with is the youth fishing
license,” Sabatose said. “I really think we should leave it in
there and then we can pull it if we need to. We can use it as a
negotiating tool.”

Complicating the Fish & Boat Commission’s quest for new
revenue is the fact that the Pennsylvania Game Commission has been
seeking a hunting license fee increase for several years and that
agency is in dire fiscal straits (see story on Page 1).

The Legislature has never granted hunting and fishing license
increases in the same year. Lawmakers prefer to deal with one
license increase before taking on another.

Either way, the Fish & Boat Commission cannot afford to lose
another 10 percent of its customers.

“License sales are flat,” Austen said. “We have to do something
different.”

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