PF&BC votes reprieve for 2 hatcheries

Harrisburg — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s Oswayo hatchery in Potter County and Bellefonte hatchery in Centre County will remain open, at least through July 2015.

In a seven-minute, late afternoon meeting on Friday, March 22, the commissioners voted unanimously to reverse their vote of late January, when they set the 2014 closure of the two hatcheries in motion.

At that commission meeting, Executive Director John Arway said closing the two hatcheries would save $2 million per year, part of an overall savings of $9 million over the next four years, $6.7 million of which will be needed for employee health care and retirement benefits.

In addition to ballooning benefits coming at the commission by fiscal 2016-17, he said, the agency faces about $2.3 million for maintenance and repairs at the other 12 hatcheries, other facilities and boating access areas.

In addition, Arway noted, the commission is seeing increased operating costs, including the rising cost of fish food and fuel, while “fishing license sales have steadily declined since 1990.”

He also noted the commission would not enroll a new class in its waterways conservation officer school.

However, since the January meeting, said commission President Steven Ketterer, “We received some calls from legislators, saying, ‘Let’s sit down and talk. Let’s see if we can help you out.’”

Ketterer – the only member of the commission physically attending the Harrisburg meeting, which saw all other commissioners calling in on a conference line – would not name any specific legislators or commitments from legislators.

He said, “There are some programs out there we’ve suggested to them, and they have some programs they’re looking at.”

Commissioner Glade Squires introduced the March 22 motion, which reads: “I move that we restore funding for the continued operation of the Oswayo and Bellefonte trout hatcheries until the July 2015 Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission meeting and that we continue to work with senators and representatives to secure funding for the other areas of our budget previously identified to be reduced or eliminated.”

Arway noted, “We’re thankful that the General Assembly has recognized the fiscal situation we’re in and have expressed their willingness to help us reach a solution.

“However, it doesn’t eliminate the fact that we must still find $9 million in annual savings or revenue over the next four years.”

With the most recent vote, the commission will continue with its complement of 14 trout hatcheries.

Oswayo and Bellefonte each employ staffs of nine.

The commission said at the time of the closure announcement that the hatchery employees would not be furloughed, and would be offered jobs at other facilities.

Oswayo produces about 245,000 brook, brown, rainbow and golden trout annually, while Bellefonte produces about 540,000, of the commission’s total 3.2 million trout raised each year for stocking in streams and lakes across the state.

The commission currently spends about $12.5 million annually to raise 3.2 million adult trout, 2 million fingerling trout, and more than 30 million fry and fingerlings of other fish species at its 14 hatcheries.

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