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Frye: Commission contemplates annual trout stamps for lifetime licenses

| Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Licenses for the oldest anglers will be up for discussion when Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioners meet in Harrisburg on Wednesday and Thursday.

The board is going to be asked to change the rules so that people 65 and older who buy a senior lifetime license — which gives them the right to fish across Pennsylvania for the rest of their lives — still have to buy a trout stamp every year. Right now, they need buy a stamp just once.

Current senior lifetime license holders would be exempt. The new rule would apply to those buying a lifetime license after Jan. 1, 2015.

Changes in license buying trends and increased costs are behind the proposal.

In 1979, only about 15 percent of seniors bought a lifetime license; 85 percent bought annual ones. In 2013, the split was about 50-50, not surprising perhaps when you consider that an annual senior license costs $11.70, whereas a lifetime license is less than five times as much at $51.70.

No one knows how many of the 463,714 anglers who have bought a senior lifetime license since 1979, when they first became available, are still out there and active, commission spokesman Rick Levis said. There's no requirement to report when a senior lifetime license holder quits or dies, he said.

But most — about seven in 10 — are trout fishermen, the commission believes.

Trout are expensive, though. In 2009, the commission estimated that it spent 36 percent of its entire “fish fund” budget to raise and stock adult-sized trout. Today, “the cost of trout production continues to rise,” according an item in this meeting's agenda.

That's a problem, according to information from director of policy and planning Tim Schaeffer.

“The commission can no longer afford to allow anyone required to purchase a senior resident lifetime fishing license to fish for trout without paying for the privilege to do so annually,” his briefer reads.

The commission can't just raise the cost of a lifetime license. Only state lawmakers have that authority.

It can require seniors to buy an annual trout stamp, though. Doing so could raise about $78,000 in its second year in effect, the commission estimates, and nearly $338,000 in Year 5, even if 8 percent of senior anglers to quit.

If commissioners give the idea preliminary approval, it will go out for public comment. Final approval could come at their next meeting in April.

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

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