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Pa. Fish and Boat Commission criticized for losing focus

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Short staff

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has a few vacancies in its law enforcement staff. It's going to have more soon.

There are seven vacant waterways conservation districts across the state, one of them in Westmoreland County. As many as 30 people in law enforcement could retire within the next year, though, said Corey Brichter, head of the commission's bureau of law enforcement.

The commission had hoped to recruit and train a new class of officers last year, but had to shelve that for budgetary reasons. It's not going to run a class this year either, as it's still short the needed $1 million, executive director John Arway said.

The commission may want to rethink that, said Rep. Gary Haluska of Cambria County.

­— Bob Frye

Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 11:09 p.m.

HARRISBURG – Some state lawmakers think the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has lost its way.

That was made clear when John Arway, executive director of the commission, presented the agency's annual report to the House of Representatives game and fisheries committee at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Arway discussed challenges facing the agency, as well as success it has achieved in implementing parts of its strategic plan. He pointed to the expansion of the mentored youth trout fishing program, sales of multiyear fishing licenses and creation of a voluntary youth fishing license that will bring in $5 of federal revenue for every $1 license purchased as positives.

Legislators, though, had a narrower focus.

“I strongly believe the mission of the commission is to provide opportunities for anglers,” said Rep. Martin Causer of the Potter County, majority chairman of the committee.

That means maximizing trout stockings, lawmakers said. Several said they don't feel the commission understands that.

One, Republican Doyle Heffley of Carbon County, said he's concerned about changes in the listing of Class A streams, which Arway described as “the best of the best” wild trout waters. Fish and Boat Commissioners recently adopted a policy statement that says all waters that qualify as Class A based on wild trout populations — whether stocked previously or not — will be listed as such so they can get all of the protections that designation offers.

Heffley said he's concerned some previously stocked waters might not get fish in the future. The idea that the commission doesn't share that worry is evidence it's being led astray by Trout Unlimited, which he termed a “fringe environmental group.”

Rep. Dave Maloney of Berks County joined that chorus, saying it's a “bunch of ideologues” in Trout Unlimited and on the commission board who are driving the agency in the wrong direction.

“I have deep, deep reservations about the warp speed of classifying streams as Class A,” Rep. Joe Emrick of Northampton County.

Arway denied Trout Unlimited or any group is unduly influencing the commission. He also defended the Class A policy, saying it's not meant to limit trout stockings, but to protect good wild trout fisheries for all anglers.

“It's a conservation and recreation policy,” Arway said.

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