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Fish and Boat Commission slashes trout stocking program

| Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, 7:02 p.m.

HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is closing two hatcheries and reducing the number of trout it stocks statewide by about 22 percent starting in 2015.

The agency's board approved the cost-cutting move Wednesday.

The commission has to pare $9.1 million from its budget over the next four years, per orders of the governor's office to absorb contractually mandated salary and health care and pension costs without increasing spending, said executive director John Arway.

“That's significant for us,” he said.

The commission's solution largely is to raise fewer trout. It has been stocking about 3.2 million annually since 2007.

That's going to decline by almost 700,000 in 2015. The commission is going to shutter the Oswayo hatchery in Potter County, which produces 245,000 adult trout a year, and the Bellefonte hatchery in Centre County, which produces 540,000.

The adult trout in them will be stocked this year, and the juvenile fish at each will be raised and stocked next spring.

They'll close after that, saving the commission about $2 million annually each of the next four years.

No employees will lose their jobs, Arway said. Each facility employees nine people. All will be offered positions at other hatcheries, Arway said.

The commission also has canceled plans to recruit and train a new class of waterways conservation officers. That will save $1 million but leave at least 13 vacancies.

The decision to stock fewer trout — the most popular fish in the state, pursued by two-thirds of fishermen annually — was not easy, Arway said.

There's no interest among legislators to boost revenues by increasing fishing license fees, and that's not something the agency wants anyway, given that every time license fees go up, angler numbers drop, he said.

“By increasing license fees, we'd be decreasing opportunities for people to fish and boat,” Arway said. “And we don't want to do that.”

To account for fewer trout, the commission will remove some lakes and/or streams from the stocking program and reduce the number of fish released into others, among other changes, said Dave Miko, head of the commission's fisheries management division. Details are being finalized and likely will be announced at this time next year, he said.

The decision to close the hatcheries was not unanimous. Nine commissioners voted for it; one — Bill Sabatose of Elk County — did not.

“It's just too drastic for me,” Sabatose said. “I'm just not ready to make that decision. I'd like to look at other alternatives.”

Other commissioners, though, praised Arway for having the courage to suggest the difficult move.

“We have to think down the road and into the future,” said commission president Steve Ketterer of Dauphin County.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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