PA: Commissioners hate smaller trout advice

Erie, Pa. – The idea of raising smaller trout to save money? It doesn't look like it's going anywhere anytime soon.

Brian Wisner, chief of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission's hatchery division, first floated the idea at a meeting of the board's fisheries committee in August.

He said then – as part of a review of potential hatchery cost savings – that shrinking the size of the adult trout stocked by the commission from 11 to 10 or even 9.5 inches would save the agency as much as $270,000 to $480,000 annually.

Raising smaller trout would save space equivalent to 450,000 pounds of fish, Wisner added, and make possible the closing of one hatchery, which would also save money.

"That's more [pounds] than any hatchery raises," Wisner said. "So by that standard, any hatchery could be closed and production shifted."

Those ideas did not play to great reviews at that meeting. It was even less well received when commissioners held their quarterly meeting in Erie the last week of September.

Commissioner Bob Bachman, of Lancaster County, pointed out that the commission has been stocking bigger trout since 2007, ever since it hosted a "Trout Summit" that brought fishermen from across the state together.

The goal of that gathering was to see what they wanted from the commission's trout program; the answer was bigger fish, even if that meant less of them, he said.

Given that, he was mystified and seemingly frustrated by the idea of raising smaller trout.

"Why would we want to do that if we have information from the public already that's told us they want fewer but larger trout?" said an animated Bachman. "Do we have any information that tells us that's no longer true?"

If not, and the commission is considering changes, it's acting "by guess and by God," he said.

Commissioner Bill Sabatose, of Elk County, said the information he's collected tells him raising smaller trout – not yet even a proposal so much as just a thought – is not popular with anglers.

"People don't like it. We said one thing a couple of years ago and now we're talking about changing it," Sabatose said.

Wisner discussed other ideas for making and saving money, too.

The commission might generate revenue by selling advertising on its stocking trucks, selling timber on hatchery lands and by installing bubble gum-type machines at its hatcheries where visitors could buy handfuls of feed for the fish, he said.

It might save money by stocking trout year-round rather than for opening day, eliminating the fall stocking and early season stocked trout waters programs, consolidating hatcheries and buying some fingerlings rather than raising them.

It was one idea that wasn't mentioned that got some attention.

Commissioner Glade Squires, of Chester County, asked why the commission was not exploring the idea of expanding the cooperative nursery program. It calls for the commission to provide sportsmen's clubs with fingerling trout, which they raise at their own expense and stock into waters open to public fishing.

That accounts for more than one million adult trout each year, he said.

Wisner said the commission would be open to enrolling more clubs if they come forward. Squires, though, said the commission should be proactive.

"I think it should be encouraged from our end out, rather than waiting for them to come to us," Squires said.

Commissioners also reiterated their desire to see the commission more bottom-line oriented. Bachman – who said he wasn't sure why the agency was raising catfish fingerlings to stock – said the agency needs to figure out what benefit it gets from stocking catfish versus, say, muskies, then determine how best to use its money and hatchery space.

Commissioner Bill Worobec of Lycoming County appointed a work group – made up of Squires, Sabatose and fellow commissioner Norman Gavlick of Luzerne County – to figure out which direction the hatchery division should be headed.

The group is to offer recommendations by the board's next meeting in January. Everything is on the table, Worobec noted.

"It's very simple: this may be a state agency, but it has to be run like a business," Squires said.

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