Harrisburg — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is revising the way it will regulate fish stocking in the state.
In April 2022, the board of commissioners granted preliminary approval for a stocking authorization form, which would require anyone stocking fish in Pennsylvania to obtain approval from the agency first.
The proposal was designed as a means to combat the spread of aquatic invasive species and disease through the stocking of fish.
However, the proposal was delayed during the board’s meeting last September in response to more than 1,000 comments received on the matter.
On Jan. 4, during a Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee meeting, agency staff outlined plans for a revised proposal that they hope to have in place for Jan. 1, 2024.
Under the new plan, the stocking authorization would be replaced with a notice of stocking, which simply requires anyone stocking fish in the state to let the agency know what species will be released and where.
Unlike the stocking authorization, the notice of stocking wouldn’t require approval from the agency prior to the stocking event.
The change to a notice of stocking still fulfills the objective regarding keeping tabs on what’s being stocked in the state, he added.
“We don’t have anything that tracks where fish are stocked,” Caccese said. “We can better manage fisheries in the state with a notice of stocking.”
While the hope is to bring the revised proposal to the board over the course of the year so the notice of stocking can be implemented in January 2024, the stocking authorization would be added at a later date.
Also eliminated in the new proposal were requirements for water testing and compliance for a planned stocking, and language prohibiting the stocking of fish with visible lesions or signs of disease.
Caccese said those in the aquaculture industry are in the business of raising and stocking healthy fish, so language prohibiting the release of sick fish isn’t necessary.
Gill-lice certification for trout that are to be stocked would still be required for fish from state hatcheries, cooperatives or state-licensed dealers. If those fish are held in a raceway, pond or other holding area prior to being stocked, a re-certification would not be needed, however.
One restriction that will remain in place under the revised proposal is the prohibition on stocking in Class A wild trout waters.
Also, anyone bringing fish in from another state to release in Pennsylvania still needs approval from the Fish & Boat Commission.
Kris Kuhn, director of the Bureau of Fisheries, reiterated the goal of the proposal is to mitigate any negative impacts of the spread of aquatic invasive species without diminishing angling opportunities.
It may take a few meetings to refine the measure, he conceded. Kuhn also said there will be more opportunities to solicit comment from anglers, stakeholders as well as commissioners.
Those commissioners attending the committee meeting were encouraged with the revisions and the balance between protecting the resource while not harming cooperatives or private hatcheries.
“The commissioners feel very strongly that we must move forward to develop a protocol addressing the spread of aquatic invasive species,” said Commissioner Richard Lewis.
“I’m very happy with the notice of stocking to gather data on what fish are stocked and where. With the notice, they will need to let us know.”
While it will take time to pass the measure, Commissioner William Gibney urged staff to keep the proposal moving forward as the spread of aquatic invasive species remains a constant threat.
“We’re a hurricane away from a catastrophe. The fact that this is data-driven is imperative,” he said. “We’re not intending to put clubs or hatcheries out of business, but actually protect these businesses from aquatic invasive species.”