Senate Game and Fisheries chair questions new Pa. fishing license increase
New higher rates for Pennsylvania fishing licenses are expected to take effect Dec. 1, but at least one lawmaker isn’t sure the rates should be increased.
“I believe our focus should be attracting more people to fishing. Increasing fees at a time of high inflation and economic stress does not help to accomplish that goal,” state Sen. Greg Rothman (R-Cumberland, Dauphin, Perry) said via email. He's the Senate’s chair of the Game and Fisheries Committee.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission voted May 17 to raise rates for the new year. The cost of an annual license in 2024 is scheduled to go from $23.50 to $26 and non-resident annual licenses from $55 to $59. Senior resident lifetime licenses are proposed to be raised by $10 to $85. Rates will also increase for the one-, three- and seven-day tourist licenses.
In addition, the resident trout permit would increase from $10.50 to $13, and trout/Lake Erie permits would go from $16.50 to $19. The overall increase to trout anglers would be $5 more than this year. The agency doesn’t receive operational money from the state’s general fund.
The proposed new rates are not finalized. The proposal will now be shared with the Pennsylvania House and Senate Game and Fisheries Committees for their review. Under Act 56 of 2020, if the General Assembly doesn’t approve of what’s being proposed, the members can intervene.
When asked if the Legislature will intervene on the new rate structure, he replied, “We will see what the Legislature thinks and respond accordingly."
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During Wednesday’s special board meeting, the agency reported that it received eight written comments from the public about the rate increase – four in favor and four against.
Through a Right to Know law request, the agency released redacted copies of the comments on Monday.
Lenny Lichvar, president of the Pennsylvania Council Trout Unlimited, and Emily Baldauff, Mid-Atlantic organizer for Trout Unlimited, were among the four people who wrote letters supporting the increase.
“Trout Unlimited's Pennsylvania Council, representing over 15,000 members across Pennsylvania, strongly support Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) authority ... to amend the commission's regulations pertaining to the fees of fishing licenses and permits. These updates will better serve the angler and outdoor recreation communities that depend on the Commission's services,” said the letter from Lichvar and Baldauff.
Their letter also states: “The PFBC has committed to only carrying out incremental increases that will support the agency's budget while holding down costs for anglers and boaters. The current proposed increases will provide the Fish Fund with additional revenues which will allow the commission to maintain adequate levels of services to the commonwealth's anglers' desires for expanded efforts in many program areas while still investing in the future.”
Similar support letters came from Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers Pennsylvania Chapter, and a group letter from the Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and Trout Unlimited.
The letters in opposition were from private individuals who believe the pricing is too high for homes with multiple people who fish, and another person said the increase is too high for out-of-state anglers. The annual non-resident license is set to increase by $4 to $59.
The Fish and Boat Commission estimates the new rate structure will generate additional revenues of $2.4 million to $2.9 million. However, the added cost is expected to decrease the overall license sales to anglers by 2%, which would be 17,556 licenses and 11,328 trout permits.
The agency reports will need the extra revenue to continue investing in improvements and maintenance efforts for fish hatcheries, hazardous dams, boat launch areas and ramps and other agency-owned facilities.
The money, which will help offset inflationary costs, will also help replace the agency’s equipment, vehicles and watercraft.
In 2022, the agency sold 793,663 licenses, which is 8% less than 2021’s total of 865,973. License sales account for 67% of the agency’s fish fund revenues.
If the increases are accepted by the state Legislature, it would be the second year in a row for the licenses to increase. Anglers are paying a similar rate increase for their 2023 licenses. The prices for a resident annual fishing license, trout permit and combination trout/Lake Erie permit, each increased by $2.50, marking the first fee increases since 2005.
This is the third of five years that the agency can consider raising the rates under Act 56 of 2020, and an increase was not warranted the first year.
Brian Whipkey is the outdoors columnist for USA TODAY Network sites in Pennsylvania. Contact him email@example.com and sign up for our weekly Go Outdoors PA newsletter email on this website's homepage under your login name. Follow him on Facebook@whipkeyoutdoors ,Twitter@whipkeyoutdoors and Instagram atwhipkeyoutdoors.