Voluntary permits: The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s ‘Nothing for Something Program’

I purchased my five-year Pennsylvania Trout and Salmon/Lake Erie permit earlier this year. Since most of my trout fishing is for wild trout, that amounts to a donation to those of you who pursue stocked trout.

If it sounds like I begrudge spending $41.90 on the stocked trout program, I do not. Even though I don’t fish stocked streams very often, I catch enough stocked trout a year to make my $8 annual permit well worth the money. I get a lot of enjoyment out of that $8.

I also put my money where my mouth (and fishing time) leads me – I purchased a 2019 Voluntary Wild Trout and Enhanced Water permit. The cost was $26.90.

As I have read in Pennsylvania Outdoor News, sales of all of the voluntary permits are slow. I’m pretty sure that I was the first person to purchase one at this particular license issuing agent. They claimed to know nothing about them and the item was not in their store’s cash register system.

As I discovered, wild trout must be worth more than bass or muskies, because the latter voluntary permits cost only $11.90. Mine cost more than double that. Those anglers who fish for bass and muskellunge should be insulted.

What did I get for my $26.90? I got a rather nondescript tiny yellow piece of plastic-coated paper. I was told that I needed to sign that yellow rectangle and it clearly states “This permit not valid until signed.”  For some unknown reason it also says, “This side must be displayed on an outer garment.” Why? This permit grants me access to no special waters. It allows me to catch no new species of fish.

I understand that the “signing” and “display” notices are an artifact of the system. but that also tells me how “un-special” these permits are being treated. I think that anyone who voluntarily purchases one of this permits is special.

We have all heard the saying “You can’t get something for nothing.” What did I get for my $26.90? Not counting the warm fuzzy feeling that I have for supporting wild trout – I got nothing. That is why I call the voluntary permit program the “Nothing For Something Program.” As I said, sales of the voluntary permits are slow. No wonder.

In case you are wondering, I support the idea of voluntary permits. It is a way for anglers to show their support. Voluntary permits are designed to help the commission maintain funding levels for several key fishing-related programs. Revenues generated from the sale of these permits will be reinvested into the namesake programs on the permits – habitat/waterways conservation, muskie, bass, and wild trout and enhanced waters programs.

According to the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission website, the wild trout money will be used to improve wild trout habitat, fund gill lice research, support efforts to maintain and improve Pennsylvania’s best wild trout fishing waters, mitigate the impacts from hemlock decline, and more.

I support all of these things. I also understand that wild trout are not free. Clean, cold water costs money. I support that.

I know that I am being critical here, but you don’t have to be a marketing genius to know that you need to give people something for showing their support. I would be willing to bet that if purchasers of the voluntary permits got a nice embroidered patch, a colorful good-quality button or even an attractive “I SUPPORT WILD TROUT” bumper sticker, the Commission would sell twice as many voluntary permits. Slow sales – that would only make the collectable patches worth more and, in the end, create more sales.

I would love to sew a “Wild Trout” patch onto my fishing vest or sport a wild trout bumper sticker on my pickup. So would others. Not only would these items be a reward to those who choose to donate, bumper stickers, patches, and/or buttons would all help to advertise the program. Current yellow rectangles do not advertise the program, nor would they help to influence anyone to buy one.

Did I mention that the sales of these permits are slow?

Imagine, angler to angler:

“Hey, where did you get that nice bumper sticker?”

“Oh, I got that for buying a voluntary wild trout permit!”

Bingo – I want one, too.

Yes, this would cost a little money to make and supply these things – tack it on to the cost of a permit – but the commission would sell twice as many. And why not make it retroactive – give a 2019 patch and a 2020 patch to anyone buying a voluntary permit next year.

So next January, when I lay down my $26.90, I hope that I get “something” to help me aid the Commission in advertising the program. I’d also know that, in addition to the warm-fuzzy feeling, I would have a little “something” to show for my donation – “something” to show that the commission appreciates those who support the program. A generic, yellow-paper rectangle doesn’t cut it. Commission, you can do better.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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