New PFBC commissioner to focus on boating safety

Brian Whipkey
Pennsylvania Outdoor Columnist

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s newest board member is focused on improving boating safety around the commonwealth.

Gov. Tom Wolf appointed John Mahn Jr. to the agency’s board of volunteer commissioners, and Mahn was confirmed by the state Senate on Dec. 15.

John Mahn, holding a smallmouth bass, has been appointed as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioner for District 2 in western Pennsylvania.

Mahn, who lives in Charleroi, Washington County, will be the District 2 commissioner and will serve a four-year term representing Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland counties. The seat was formerly held by Rocco S. Ali.

Mahn moved to western Pennsylvania from Massachusetts more than 50 years ago to attend college and realized he had no reason to leave.

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He said Monday in a telephone interview that Pennsylvania has many more public access waterways than his home state, and he realized early, “It was like living in paradise.”

He met his wife in college and soon landed a job in the steel industry, and “I couldn’t see a reason to move,” he said about staying in western Pennsylvania.

John Mahn displays a northern pike he caught. He has been appointed as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioner for District 2 in western Pennsylvania.

He holds a bachelor’s degree from Franklin & Marshall College and is retired from a 35-year career in steel industry management. He is a past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association, and he formerly wrote columns for the Tribune Review.

In the early 1970s he said the steel industry was booming in Pittsburgh. “Work was good, the fishing was good (and) the hunting was good; really there was no reason to leave,” he said about raising his family here.

After leaving the steel industry, he worked as a captain and deckhand on the rivers around Pittsburgh and is still a part-time deckhand. “I’m lucky enough to be able to hunt and fish whenever I get the chance,” he said.

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As someone who enjoys saltwater and freshwater fishing, he said boating safety is something he wants to promote.  As a member of the Fish Commission’s advisory board since 2017, he said they encouraged the use of life jackets and horsepower limits for boat motors. “My concerns mostly have been with boating safety,” Mahn said.

He pointed out that about 80% of fatalities on the water involved people not wearing their life jackets.

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At age 71, he said he’s old enough to remember the evolution of seat belts that should carry over to life jackets on boats. At one time, seatbelts were an option on cars but now everyone puts one on. “You don’t even think about it,” he said about getting in a vehicle. “Putting your life jacket on should be automatic."

John Mahn holds a walleye while fishing from a boat. He has been appointed as the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commissioner for District 2 in western Pennsylvania.

Personally he goes fishing in all types of waterways but said he’s a diehard crappie fisherman. He also likes fishing for walleye and smallmouth bass as well. He fishes mostly in lakes around his Pittsburgh-area home but does have a boat in Erie. “Lake Erie is a world class fishery for a lot of different species,” he said.

Mahn becomes the first African American appointed to the Board of Commissioners. “It points to the agency becoming more diverse and more representative of the Pennsylvania population,” he said. “Personally, I don’t think it’s a big deal, but I understand the significance of it. And I understand that is says a lot of things about the agency.”

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Looking forward to starting this volunteer role, he said the agency has done an excellent job as far as the resource itself, noting the 41-year-old record for walleye was just broken in Connellsville, which is not too far from his home. “The agency is moving in the right direction,” he said.

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Mahn will officially assume his duties after he has taken the oath of office. “I’m anxious to get to work,” he said.

Brian Whipkey is the outdoor columnist for USA Today Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at bwhipkey@gannett.com and sign up for our weekly Outdoors Newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name.