Fee increase is ahead, but new PFBC president looks forward to more fishing opportunities
The new board president of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is looking forward to increasing angler access to waterways and improving water quality across the state.
B.J. Small, 66, of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, became president of the agency’s volunteer board of commissioners during a July 26 meeting.
As a board member since 2017, he represents the sixth district which includes Adams, Cumberland, Dauphin, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry, and York counties.
“We’ve built some momentum here for some things and we hope to be able to build on that. We got some decisions coming, some important issues as we always do. This year we got a fee increase that we are on track for, the stocking authorization, and we continue to do some terrific and important work on our hazardous dams,” he said in a telephone interview.
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The agency is in the process of adopting its first fishing license increase since 2005. It’s designed to keep the agency strong in carrying out its objectives, he said about resident licenses and trout stamps each costing $2.50 more in 2023.
One of his key priorities in leading the board is to create the next strategic plan that has high-level goals for the staff to develop.
“We want to do everything we can to expand opportunities for anglers and boaters where we can and recruitment/retention is key. We have a lot of things on our plate. I’m looking forward to carrying on some of the good work that we’ve done.”
Focusing on four areas
The focus areas include creating more access for fishing, boating and nongame species like aquatics, reptiles and amphibians.
There is an ongoing concern in the agency regarding invasive species like snakehead in the southeast and silver carp in the Great Lakes.
The agency is looking at making private fish hatcheries seek authorization before stocking fish in Pennsylvania waterways. “Pennsylvania is one of the few — if only — states in the mid-Atlantic that doesn’t monitor stockings, who is putting what in the waterways,” he said.
The agency is working with the aquaculture groups on a way to monitor what is being stocked and to make sure the fish being released are healthy and safe.
“It’s not to be an economic burden on those who produce fish. Just so we can make sure the fish are being tested and being cleared and not causing a problem to the local waterways.”
The agency also has about 20 dam and reservoir improvement projects in the works across the state.
He said the agency’s restoration work, which is being done with the help of various volunteer groups, is improving the quality of the waterways, reducing the amount of pollution that fouls the waterways as well as creating a better habitat for aquatic life.
“It’s nice to see those victories,” he said.
Small said the agency has a reputation of working well with many sportsmen groups including about 140 co-operative nurseries that raise about 1 million trout each year for public waterways.
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The volunteers raise the fingerling trout from mid-summer through the winter until they are large enough to be stocked in the spring.
The agency is able to provide grants to help the sportsmen group maintain their raceways and facilities.
Other groups like Trout Unlimited Chapters across the state have members with “boots in the water” who work with the fish commission on water improvement projects across the Commonwealth.
“I was born and raised in Gettysburg,” he said about his roots. “I grew up fishing in Adams County,” he said about riding his bicycle to Willoughby Run and using chicken livers to fish for catfish.
Today he also likes to go trout fishing. “Adams County has some outstanding trout waters,” he said about reaching for his spinning reel in his free time. “I’m not a fly angler,” he said about preferring natural and artificial baits and lures. He also enjoys going to the Susquehanna River for smallmouth bass and occasional catfish.
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He enjoys hunting as well.
After high school, he served in the U.S. Army for seven years after high school as a military journalist working for military newspapers.
At 25, he started working as a sports writer for the Gettysburg Times and stayed with the newspaper almost three decades, working his way up to managing editor and then editor.
He realized his audience wanted stories about hunting and fishing and he wanted to be the person to provide that information. In the mid-1980s he started writing a weekly column entitled “Fur, Feathers and Fins” that is still published today.
He also writes a monthly outdoors feature for the Carlisle Sentinel.
Since 2015, he has worked for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation in Harrisburg where he serves as the Pennsylvania media and communications coordinator.
He works with various media outlets in an effort to discuss the challenges of creating cleaner rivers and streams in Pennsylvania.
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His past experience and current work blends together with his service on the board of commissioners for the Fish and Boat Commission.
He figured this would be an opportunity to listen and to pass on input and concerns from the fishing and boating community and incorporate what we can and report back to the public. “I’ve been a communicator. I’ve been a hunter and an angler for all those years.”
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The CBF and PFBC work with many of the same organizations and school students. “It all fits together really well,” he said about the crossover of his job and service to the angling community.
“The commissioners each bring a unique set of values and tools whether they’re closely related to TU, had been in forestry, attorneys, or worked for conservation districts or are communicators. Commissioners bring unique qualities and experience. It’s really good to have that at the table. We need to spend time out in the field with our staff and it also exposes us to angler/boater feedback.”
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He’s in the first year of his second term and he’s optimistic about the future of fishing and boating in Pennsylvania.
“I look forward to it, it’s going to be a challenge,” he said.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on your website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on social media @whipkeyoutdoors.