FALLS CREEK — While in the area last week, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission expressed a desire to remain in his job just as the state Senate recently passed a bill to limit his term.
Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, sponsored the term limit bill, SB935. On Oct. 25, the bill was passed and then referred to the House Game & Fisheries Committee, where it currently sits, according to Scarnati’s office.
Last week in Falls Creek, PFBC Executive Director John Arway spoke at a Sportsman’s Forum hosted by three chapters of Trout Unlimited at the Clarion Hotel on a variety of issues concerning fishing in Pennsylvania and the PFBC.
When asked for comment after the forum by the Courier-Express, Arway said he would like to stay in the job.
“I never thought the Senate would be my retirement planner,” he said.
He later elaborated by providing a formal statement, saying, “I have committed over 37 years to public service, the past seven-and-a-half as executive director of the PFBC. One of my initial priorities when I accepted the director position was to insure financial stability for the agency. I plan to continue working to achieve that goal so that we can meet the expectations of this and future generations of Pennsylvania anglers, boaters and conservationists.”
Arway is seeking a fishing license increase through Senate Bill 30.
According to Arway, the bill “would grant the PFBC the ability to initiate the first fishing license increase since 2005.”
According to the PFBC, the state Senate has passed SB 30 by a 47-2 vote. However, it’s awaiting for action in the House Game and Fisheries Committee.
On the PFBC website, a message tells people to urge their elected representative to pass the bill.
Noting its financial situation, the commission has stated that it is “facing escalating costs and declining revenues after 12 years without an increase in the price of a fishing license.”
Fewer people are getting licenses.
According to Eric Levis, communications director for the commission, license revenue is down by approximately $745,734 through Nov. 8. He said that license sales (resident annual, non-resident, multi-year, etc.) are down by 41,496 or 4.93 percent, while license permits (trout stamp, Lake Erie, combo trout/Lake Erie) are down by 27,934 or 4.74 percent through Nov. 8.
With such a decrease in revenue, Levis noted that the commission “is committed to being fiscally responsible and not spending more than it earns in revenue.”
The license fee increase that is being proposed would raise a license from $20 a year to $26 a year, and would raise $6.2 million more in revenue, according to Arway.
The PFBC board has voted to reduce spending by $2 million in fiscal year 2018-19 if the legislature doesn’t act on license fees, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, Arway sent a message to the state’s elected representatives Oct. 10 explaining what the commission would do with its reserve funds if it did receive a revenue increase this legislative session.
Arway said his first action “would be to continue to operate all of our hatcheries at current production levels, which would mean no reductions in trout, warm water or cool water fish stockings.”
He also indicated that the commission would implement a plan to restore law enforcement services, noting that vacant waterways conservation officer positions have occurred statewide through attrition. “As soon as revenue increases or we receive legislative approval to increase fees, we will request authorization from the governor’s office to expand our complement to run a new school of 20 officers to keep the fish in our waterways and our recreational users safe,” he wrote in his message.
In addition, he has noted that the commission would “immediately begin spending uncommitted reserves on prioritized deferred infrastructure and other critical needs when we receive a fee increase.”
When asked for comment about the term limit bill, Scarnati’s office provided a statement from the senator.
It reads, “It is crucial that the executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission provides strong leadership. Every four or eight years, new vision and governance happens with the change of administrations for our Commonwealth. It is important that the fish and boat commission also has opportunity for growth and new guidance. Legislating a limited length of service for a leadership position within a state government agency is not unique. Despite the fiscal constraints facing our state, the commission’s mission, ‘to protect, conserve, and enhance the Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide fishing and boating opportunities,’ should always remain the core priority of the executive director.”
If a term limit were instituted, Arway said his term would be up in early March.