Advocates Want Treatment, Not Just Testing of Susquehanna

The entire Susquehanna River basin will be the subject of extensive testing and sampling for the remainder of 2013.  The Department of Environmental Protection’s new 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan calls for tests to be run on water quality, sediments, pesticides and fish.  It’s all in hopes of finally putting to rest the mystery surrounding diseased and dying smallmouth bass. 

The public can track the DEP’s ongoing analysis online.   

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway tells Radio PA the DEP’s plan recognizes the Susquehanna is sick and in need of study, but doesn’t do anything to start cleaning up the river. 

“We need to begin treating the river, we need to put a plan together to fix the river while we continue to do the kind of studies the DEP is proposing,” Arway says. 

Distressed smallmouth bass first started turning up in the Susquehanna in 2005, and while no exact cause has been pinpointed Arway says there are solid theories that can be acted upon now

For instance, Arway says, they’ve noticed high levels of nutrient runoff from farms and lawns.  “A lot of our soils were oversaturated with those nutrients and they’re getting into the river causing aquatic plants – the algae – to grow, which takes the oxygen out of the water and causes stress to the young bass that live in the river.”

“If you go to our boat launches… you’ll see maybe only one or two boat trailers when they used to be packed with boat trailers before,” Arway says, noting that some anglers refuse to fish the river anymore.  The Susquehanna River used to be a haven for smallmouth bass fishermen. 

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation had a similar reaction to the DEP’s 2013 Susquehanna River Sampling Plan. 

(photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service)

Even Anglers would Feel the Fiscal Cliff

The Pennsylvania Fish & Board Commission doesn’t receive any government funding, but even it would feel the effects of the looming fiscal cliff. That’s because their trust fund dollars would be subject to federal sequestration. 

The Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Safety Trust Funds are raised through excise taxes on things like fishing tackle and boat fuel.  The money can’t be spent on anything other than the intended purpose, but Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway says that wouldn’t stop the government from sequestering 7.6% next year. 

“I really liken it to someone at a bank, who has access to your account information, and takes 7.6% out of your savings account without your permission to show that they can cover the bad checks that they’ve written,” Arway explains.  “They promise to return the money sometime in the future, but in the meantime you have to find other funds to pay your bills.” 

The shortfall would amount to almost a million dollars for the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission next year, which translates into almost 40,000 additional fishing licenses they would have to sell in order to avoid cuts to programs and services. 

Arway is urging PA’s Congressional delegation to exempt excise tax revenue from sequestration, in the event that the federal government does not avert the fiscal cliff (a potentially devastating mix of tax hikes and automatic spending cuts) on the first of the year.

New Life Jacket Regulations to Take Effect

From November 1st through April 30th, boaters will be required to wear life jacket while on a boat less than 16-feet long, as well as all canoes & kayaks.  Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis says a disproportionate number of boating fatalities occur during these cold weather months. 

Levis tells Radio PA that life jackets will save you from drowning in the event of cold water shock.  “If you’ve ever been in cold water, and I have, it becomes very difficult to swim.  Your body is cold, you’re shivering, you may start hyperventilating.  The life jackets will help.” 

The Commission passed the new, statewide regulation earlier this fall.  It will be in effect annually during the colder months. 

The Fish & Boat Commission has also approved a mentored youth fishing pilot program, which will be rolled out in the southeast region this coming March – the weekend before the regional trout season opens.  Levis says details on which waters will be involved, and how to register, are still being finalized.

Marcellus Shale Boom Has More Impacts Than Meet The Eye

The Marcellus Shale boom is affecting anglers and boaters state wide, and they may not realize it.  The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is responsible for all fish, reptiles and amphibians in the Commonwealth.

Tim Schaeffer, Director of the Bureau of Policy, Planning and Communication   says by the end of the summer, they had reviewed five times more permits this year for waterways encroachment than all of last year.  He says they do all of that with fishing license dollars and get no general fund money or portion of the permit fees that the Department of Environmental Protection receives.

Commission staff must also review water withdrawal applications to make sure aquatic life is protected.  Schaeffer nearly 25% of the “Species of Special Concern” reviews they do each year are attributed to Marcellus.  He says permits for access roads and pipelines, everything that comes into DEP and crosses a stream, must be reviewed.

Schaeffer says waterways conservation officers have the authority to enforce environmental laws.  He says they’re often the first ones out there who see an erosion or sediment issue and can work proactively with the companies on changes that need to be made.

Schaeffer says the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report itself identifies the impacts of the Marcellus Shale boom that are appropriate for compensation, listing state natural resource agency oversight, permit review and enforcement.  He says they’re one of those state natural resources agencies and they think it’s unfair to have boaters and anglers  bear the burden.

Bill Could Help Hook More PA Anglers

An unprecedented decline in fishing license sales is being tracked nationwide.   Pennsylvania is no exception, as the Fish & Boat Commission reports 1.4-million PA anglers in 1996, compared to just under one million in 2006.  With those numbers in mind, the commission is working to get more Pennsylvanians engaged, and they believe SB 1049 would be a big boost. 

John Arway

Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway

The legislation would provide the Fish & Boat Commission with more flexibility to make licenses more convenient and less expensive.  “We could look at ideas like a multi-year license, which is one of the prime alternatives that we would look at if this bill passes,” says Fish & Boat Commission executive director John Arway.  “Our potential approach to this would be that there may be some cost savings to the anglers to, if they do it for five years or three years, instead of just one year.” 

Florida, Georgia and Kansas currently offer multi-year licenses, and all indications at this week’s public hearing were that the program has been a success in those states.  Other possibilities, if SB 1049 were to become law, are group licensing and promotional discounts. 

“It’s just part of a process that we’re trying to create to encourage more people to get fishing in Pennsylvania.  We have many other things to do, but this is the first step,” Arway said in an interview with Radio PA.  SB 1049 is expected to come up for consideration in the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee later this fall.  

Photo credits: PA Fish & Boat Commission /

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged.

Pennsylvania “Fish-For-Free” Day lines Up with National Promotion

Walleye, bass and trout in eight Pennsylvania waterways have been tagged in conjunction with Cabela’s “Wanna Go Fishing for Millions?” promotion.  Registered fishermen, who catch a tagged fish, win a prize.  The promotion is already underway, but PA Fish and Boat Commission spokesman Eric Levis says it coincides perfectly with their annual “Fish-for-Free” day on Labor Day, May 30th.

The Fish and Boat Commission will be holding special events, on “Fish-for-Free” day, at six of the waters where the tagged fish can be found.  Levis says they want more people to come out and fish.  “It’s a fun sport, and our experience is that when families come out with their kids… the kids love it, the parents love it, and they realize that it’s a great recreational activity.”

Levis notes that anyone can fish for free on Memorial Day, across the state.  You don’t have to go where the promotion or special events are taking place.  The next “Fish-for-Free” day, during which no license is required, will be Labor Day, September 5th.