PA: Gassed: PF&BC mired in Marcellus

Harrisburg – Fishing license sales in Pennsylvania bounced back
in recent months – perhaps because of better weather or maybe due
to Cabela’s tagged-fish contest – Fish & Boat Commission
officials revealed recently, but the agency’s fiscal situation
remains precarious.

And the situation is being made worse by the need to monitor the
explosion of Marcellus Shale natural-gas-drilling activity and
enforce clean water and anti-pollution regulations.

“We used to be asked to do more with less, but now we’re doing
less with less,” said agency law enforcement chief Tom Kamerzel.
“That’s the reality of where we are now.

“This year we have been inundated with a lot of major cases
related to Marcellus drilling. Our officers can no longer spend as
much time as they used to monitoring areas like stream mouths where
fish are congregated, watching for anglers with fish over the
limit.”

Kamerzel’s comments came during a wide-ranging discussion at the
commission’s recent quarterly meeting about the agency’s fiscal
plight. He noted that commission waterways conservation officers
have been directed to cut back on gas used in boat patrols to save
money.

“In certain areas, significant amounts of officers’ time have
been diverted to Marcellus Shale enforcement.”

But commission officers are not compromising any level of public
safety, stressed John Arway, executive director. “We are directing
our resources where they are needed most,” he said.

“We need to make sure that our legislators are aware of the
strain that this industry is putting on our agency.”

The Marcellus Shale gas industry – which is concentrated in the
northcentral part of the state where the most wild trout streams
are located – has challenged the commission, Arway pointed out.
“The Fish & Boat Commission needs 13 new employees just to keep
up with the 5,000 Marcellus permits submitted annually, at a cost
of $1.5 million to $2 million,” he said.

Fishing license sales, which had been down more than 10 percent
compared to last year at the start of trout season in April, have
bounced back nicely, reported Bernie Matscavage, director of
administration for the commission, but sales remained down 4.2
percent as of July 10.

“We’re down by $1 million to date,” he said. “And by July 4th we
sell 90 percent of our licenses. By Aug. 30, we sell about 95
percent.”

It has not been business as usual at the Fish & Boat
Commission in the face of the state’s budget crisis, according to
Arway. “Our agency has not been purchasing new vehicles because the
governor has been critical of state vehicle purchases,” he said.
“We have been trying to hold off on vehicles, but eventually the
repairs will catch up with us.”

The reason fishing license sales recovered, according to
commission officials, might be the Cabelas’s tagged fish contest in
which the agency partnered.

Turns out that Pennsylvania is the national leader for tagged
fish, with 170,000 anglers registering online to participate in the
competition. According to commission figures at the time of the
meeting, the following number of tagged fish had been caught and
redeemed for cash and prizes:

Sayers Lake, three; Penns Creek, seven; Raystown Lake four;
Nockamixon Lake, three; and Lake Wallenpaupack, one.

Penns Creek was the only stream stocked with tagged fish in the
country, noted Arway, who explained that the Cabela’s contest
extends over the 18 states where the giant retailer has stores.

“And those Pennsylvania returns are amazing because I don’t
think we put more than 15 tagged fish in any one water,” he
said.

Commission biologist Dave Miko pointed out that “just under 90”
fish were tagged and stocked in the five commonwealth waters

“Every state had a $9,500 tagged fish,” he said.

But most fishermen didn’t know about the contest, according to
Ted Walke, the commission’s publications chief, who is responsible
for the agency’s marketing, promotions and advertising.

He predicted that Cabela’s would hold the contest next year and
that the Fish & Boat Commission would again participate, but
only if a lot more advertising is done.

“Just 26 percent of anglers knew about the contest when we
surveyed around the state on fish-for-free day,” he said.

Arway pointed out that Pennsylvania fisheries managers had an
influence on the contest. “Initially Cabela’s wanted wild fish to
be tagged, but we got permission to tag stocked fish,” he said.
“And initially, they wanted only impoundments – that’s what they
did in all the other states.

“I think it’s clear that Pennsylvania is the model for the other
states as far as pulling things together quickly for the
contest.”

Although Pennsylvania fishing license sales remain in the red
compared to last year, the Keystone State is faring far better than
its neighbor to the west. In Ohio, the Buckeye state’s Department
of Natural Resources Division of Wildlife reported recently,
fishing license sales for 2011 are down a whopping 23 percent.

That represents a shortfall well in excess of $2 million.

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