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Fish and Boat Commission backs off boat registration proposal

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 11:24 p.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Orlando Lash (left) and Frank Berarducci, co-owners of Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters and Bait Shop in West Newton, talk Thursday, April 18, 2013, about a how registrations on unpowered boats would hurt their business.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
Orlando Lash (left) and Frank Berarducci, co-owners of Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters and Bait Shop in West Newton, sit with their boats Thursday, April 18, 2013.

It looks as though Frank Berarducci and others like him are off the hook for now.

Berarducci is co-owner of Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters in West Newton. From there, he and his brother-in-law, Orlando Lash, rent canoes and kayaks to boaters who float the river. They've got nearly 90 boats.

None of them are registered.

The rules say that's OK. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regulations say only motorboats need be registered, at a cost of $26 to $52, depending on size, for two years.

There's been talk of changing that, though. Desperate for cash to meet looming budget shortfalls tied to health care and pension costs, the commission has been talking about requiring all boats — including the estimated 137,750 canoes, kayaks, rowboats and other nonpowered boats — to be registered.

Berarducci doesn't want that.

“That would put a heck of a damper on our profits. It's not something we'd like to see,” he said.

“That would be a lot of registrations for us, a lot of stickers, a lot of paperwork, a lot of numbers on boats. That's definitely something we'd be against.”

He's not been alone in expressing those kinds of opinions. Several Fish and Boat Commissioners, at their meeting this past week, said they've heard similar sentiments from boaters and lawmakers around the state.

That prompted several, such as Ed Mascharka of Erie County and Warren Elliott of Franklin, to say they oppose registering nonpowered boats. The result is that the registration idea has been put on hold, for now.

That doesn't mean commissioners hate the concept completely. Rather, several said the problem is how it's structured. Its impact on liveries like Berarducci's is an issue, said commissioner Rocco Ali of Apollo.

“I have heard nothing about the commercial guy who owns these kayaks and how that's going to impact him. That is a concern,” Ali said.

There's also the issue of rowboats and other small crafts on things like farm ponds, said commissioner Bob Bachman of Lancaster County. Many of those never get used off those tiny waters, he said.

Yet a rule requiring all nonpowered boats to be registered would include them, too.

“It seems like a great, big, broad sort of thing,” Bachman said.

Commission staff, in presenting the proposal, noted that all boaters, whether their crafts are registered or not, benefit from the commission's work in some ways. That includes the pollution monitoring behind clean water, enforcement of safety rules, fish regulations and more, they said.

“I think we have to get paid for the services we render,” said commissioner Bill Worobec of Lycoming County.

But how to do that needs to be better fleshed out, he said.

Ali agreed, saying the commission recently created a firestorm by announcing it was closing two trout hatcheries as a cost-cutting move without notifying lawmakers first. Many responded angrily enough that the commission backtracked and has agreed to keep both open while the search for the money needed to run them long-term goes on.

Unless the commission has taken the “political pulse” of lawmakers on this registration issue and is sure it won't likewise create a problem, it should be wary, Ali said.

“I would hate for us to get into the same sort of thing we got into before, where we upset a lot of people for nothing,” Ali said.

Not every commissioner agreed. Len Lichvar of Somerset County said the commission's fiscal concerns are such that it needs to make hard and perhaps unpopular decisions.

It's time for everyone to pay their way, he said, rather than relying on a few to pay for the services all enjoy.

“I don't think anyone deserves a free ride any more. And I think we have some free riders out there,” Lichvar said.

Given that the board itself is split, though, the commission largely has shelved the idea until there's more consensus, said executive director John Arway.

“This is now a low priority. It's not going to get a lot of staff time,” Arway said.

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

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