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Deciscion to close two hatcheries reversed

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Friday, March 22, 2013, 6:18 p.m.

A maybe but not a guarantee.

That's what was behind the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's decision Friday to reverse course and keep two trout hatcheries open.

In January, the agency had announced plans to shutter its Oswayo and Bellefonte hatcheries in Potter and Centre counties, respectively, by the end of 2014. That would have cut about 750,000 trout — about 22 percent — from the commission's annual stocking allocation of 3.2 million.

Executive director John Arway said then that the cutback was necessary because $9 million needed to be trimmed from the budget to account for new state and federally mandated health care and pension costs. Closing the hatcheries would have saved $2 million.

Commissioners praised his courage for recommending the move.

Friday, though, after months of hearing from state lawmakers upset with the plan, they unanimously changed their minds.

The board committed to keeping the hatcheries running until July 2015 while agency staff and lawmakers look for funding to support them longer term, said board president Steve Ketterer of Harrisburg.

What kind of help — if any — lawmakers might provide is unknown.

“They're not guaranteeing anything; it's important that I tell you that,” Ketterer said. “But they said they wanted to give it a try. They just said, ‘Let's sit down and talk and see what may be available out there,' which was very positive.”

State Rep. Martin Causer, the Potter County Republican whose district includes the Oswayo facility — and who initiated an effort to explore merging the Fish and Boat Commission with the Game Commission after the hatchery decision came to light — praised the board's decision.

He also left no doubt he thought the plan was a bad one from the get-go.

“I am glad the commission saw the error of its ways and decided to keep these hatcheries open,” he said. “Closing two hatcheries in virtually the same area of the state would have resulted in decreased stocking in area waterways, and that would have had a devastating impact on local fishing opportunities and the local economy.”

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