Display of fishing licenses to go on

Harrisburg — If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That’s the conclusion a divided Fish & Boat Commission board came to after a spirited discussion about whether to continue to make Pennsylvania anglers display their fishing licenses.

The question came up because the state Legislature recently granted the Pennsylvania Game Commission authority to allow hunters to no longer display hunting licenses as back tags, instead giving them approval to keep their license in their wallet or pocket.

The Fish & Boat Commission has received requests to allow anglers to do the same thing with their fishing licenses. The debate took place at the commission’s recent quarterly meeting here.

“But you have to remember, Game has a totally different, unique scenario – it is very unusual to find more than five or six hunters driving deer or hunting pheasants or in a duck blind where officers have to check them,” said Commissioner Ed Mascharka, of Erie County.

“Our officers face a different situation. They have to check hundreds and hundreds of people quickly on streams and lakes.”

“Some of them get there at the dawn to get to their spot and if you pull them out to check their licenses, there will be a lot of complaints.”

Long-time Commissioner Bill Sabatose, of Elk County, noted that this is the third time the question of whether or not to display fishing licenses has come up during his tenure on the board.

The answer every time has been that people just want to be left alone, he pointed out.

“When they are fishing, it would cause a lot of problems if officers say, ‘OK we need you to come out here so I can see your license,’ and they lose their spot.

“It is different than hunting,” Sabatose added. “It would cause a lot of problems. I have never seen a Game officer go to a deer stand and check a hunter. They check you coming out of the woods.

“With fishing, you have all these people fishing in one stream.”

Tom Kamerzel, chief of law enforcement for the commission, noted that the license-display question last came up in 2008.

”There are a lot states that don’t require display, but the bottom line is that I would like to see  display continue because it is the least intrusive manner for us to insure that people are properly licensed,” he said.

“Many people say, ‘I never get checked.’ Well, yeah you did, you just didn’t see the officer with binoculars look at your license. We didn’t go down to bother him because we didn’t  see that he was doing anything wrong.

“We moved on and we checked other people.”

Kamerzel warned that if Fish & Boat commissioners waive the license-display requirement, it would inconvenience and aggravate fishermen.

“Without the display requirement, here is what is going to happen: We will stop everybody because we will have to and inconvenience them, and ask to see their licenses

“We will say, ‘sir I need to see your license,’ and that will take a lot of time.

“‘And now that your license is out, I want to see some additional identification to be sure this is you.”

In most cases now, according to Kamerzel, officers don’t ask to see identification.

“It comes down to right now we can accomplish our mission and make sure licenses are complied with, and with the display requirement it is the least intrusive method upon the angler.

“Anglers are not going to be happy when we tell them they have to wade out of the Loyalsock or the Sinnemahoning and lose their spot, and then we make them dig wallets out of their pocket.”

Nonetheless, Commissioner Norm Gavlick, of Luzerne County, indicated that he supports abolishing the display requirement. He pointed out that fish code originally did not require display.

“If it was optional, those who don’t want to be disturbed can still display it,” he said.

“I am saying, remove the burden from anglers. There are a lot more people who fish for species other than trout, some out of boats, for walleyes, bass, muskies and panfish, to name a few.”

But officers will still have to check all the people who don’t display licenses, replied Commissioner Glade Squires, of Chester County.

“With the requirement to display licenses, officers can check hundreds of anglers with binoculars along a trout stream and not disturb them,” he said.

“I believe that removing the display requirement puts an added burden on law enforcement at a time when we have already heard that officers are stretched too thin by the demands that Marcellus gas development is putting on them.”

Commissioner Bob Bachman, of Lancaster County, wondered aloud why Pennsylvania is different than so many other states that don’t require license display.

Kamerzel noted that some states are reconsidering the display requirement after waiving it. A study done in California after that state implemented a display  requirement showed that license sales climbed significantly.

“I can’t predict how much revenue that it would cost the agency [if the display requirement is waived], but I can tell you that I know that almost a quarter of the tickets we write are for fishing without a license.”

Bachman suggested that officers may better serve the agency by spending more time looking for other infractions.

“Are we overemphasizing checking licenses instead of looking for other things to protect our fisheries?” he asked.

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is unique, Kamerzel responded. “We live on license and registration fees,” he said. “Other states agencies are not living totally on license fees and they do not do routine license checks.

“If license compliance is still a high priority for the commission, then we should continue with the display requirement.”

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