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Changes made to senior lifetime fishing licenses

| Monday, July 21, 2014, 11:33 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission took a first step toward raising new money, albeit one not everyone within the agency agreed.

At their recent quarterly meeting, commissioners decided by an 8-2 vote to require all those who buy senior lifetime fishing licenses after Jan. 1, 2015, to also have to buy an annual trout stamp. Those who have purchased a lifetime license prior to that time will be exempt.

The move might raise as much as $338,000 annually by year five, said Tim Schaeffer, deputy executive director for policy and planning.

The move is necessary because about 70 percent of senior lifetime license holders fish for stocked trout, said executive director John Arway. Those fish are expensive: They account for about 36 percent of the agency's fish fund budget.

Lifetime license holders — whose numbers are expected to grow — don't help pay that bill now, he said.

“We simply can no longer afford to allow anglers to fish for trout without paying for the annual permit,” Arway said.

Two commissioners, Ed Mascharka of Erie County and Glade Squires of Chester, voted against the proposal.

Mascharka said the rule creates two classes of lifetime license holders: those who have to buy an annual trout stamp and those who don't. More importantly, he said, it doesn't really fix anything.

“I was against it from the beginning due to the fact it's a short-term remedy for a few dollars. In fact, it's not a remedy at all,” Mascharka said.

“Three hundred thousand dollars is a drop in the bucket compared to what we need.”

The commission needs a lot more money, Arway agreed.

Like other state agencies, it's under orders from Gov. Tom Corbett to maintain a no-growth budget while simultaneously absorbing increases in mandated pension and health care costs, Arway said.

That means the commission needs $4.8 million in fiscal year 2014-15, $6.8 million in 2015-16 and $9.1 million in 2016-17. Arway said the commission either must generate new revenue or cut programs.

At the board's urging, Arway outlined four options for raising money with license fees.

Option one is to increase the cost of fishing license and trout stamp fees by a one-time, fixed amount: Option two is to increase the cost of trout stamps alone by a one-time, fixed amount: Option three is to increase fishing license and stamp fees incrementally, and option four is to decrease fees by $1.

None alone would generate the kind of money the commission needs, Arway said. The first two, if not the first three, surely would cause some anglers to quit fishing, he added.

Ultimately, outgoing board president G. Warren Elliott of Adams County asked three commissioners to develop recommendations for the board and report back, perhaps by the agency's fall meeting.

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

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