Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) Executive Director John Arway formally presented the agency’s 2012 Annual Report to the House Game and Fisheries Committee today. In his remarks, Arway reiterated that one of the agency’s top goals is to identify alternative funding sources in order to sustain the agency.
“Although the Commission is an independent, administrative agency of state government and we often advocate the user pay, user benefit model, we are not immune from the debt challenges that lie ahead of us,” Arway said. “All state agencies have been told that we should prepare to absorb increases in employee pension and medical costs in the near future. Combine these costs with increases in employee wages and salaries, rising operating costs, and a flat or declining customer base, and we could have our own fiscal cliff to contend with if we don’t immediately live up to our fiduciary responsibilities.”
Arway explained that the agency must reallocate more than $9 million of revenue over the next four years and every year thereafter to cover the projected costs. Approximately $6.7 million is needed for future employee health care and retirement benefits, and $2.3 million is needed for infrastructure needs, such as maintenance and repairs at remaining hatcheries, other facilities, and boating access areas.
The PFBC in January took the first steps in its long-term plan to reduce costs by announcing that two hatcheries would be closed by the end of 2014 – Bellefonte in Centre County and Oswayo in Potter County – resulting in an annual savings of approximately $2 million. Additionally, the PFBC said it would not run a new class of waterways conservation officers. These cuts amount to about $3 million of the $9 million total that must be saved.
“The other $6 million will need to come from the rest of the agency’s operations, and all options for reducing spending will be on the table,” Arway added.
Because the PFBC’s other hatcheries are at capacity, the trout lost from the Oswayo and Bellefonte hatcheries will not be replaced by other hatcheries. However, Arway explained that stocking will continue in the counties surrounding and previously stocked by these two hatcheries.
“Beginning last year, the PFBC started to implement stocking changes across the state as part of a comprehensive plan to improve the efficiency and reduce costs of our stocked trout program,” he said. “These changes preceded the analysis that led to the Oswayo and Bellefonte decisions. We developed a strategic approach to guide future program changes, including both additions and reductions.”
For anglers, the changes mean that some streams will receive fewer trout and others will be dropped from the stocking lists. These will be ones that have low angler use or have residency problems with trout.
While securing the PFBC’s financial future is a top priority, Arway said the agency remains committed to fulfilling other strategic goals, including protecting and conserving aquatic resources and habitats, including the Susquehanna River.
“One of the highest profile resource issues in 2012 was the ongoing state of decline of the smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna River,” Arway said. “Once considered a world-class bass fishery, the Susquehanna River continued to be plagued with disease in 2012 that has been killing young smallmouth bass for almost a decade and has most recently resulted in unsightly lesions and open sores on adult bass.”
“Throughout 2012, the Commission publicly made the case that the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) needs to acknowledge the facts and add the river to the federal list of impaired waters,” he added. “Adding the Susquehanna River to the list as a ‘high priority’ impaired water would trigger a two-year timeline under federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations for DEP to develop a comprehensive plan to clean up the river.”
“Sadly, the DEP did not list the Susquehanna River as an impaired waterway in its January report,” Arway added.
Arway noted that the plan does not become final until approved by the EPA and said that the PFBC was asking members of Congress within the Susquehanna Watershed to contact the EPA and demand that a plan is put in place to fix the Susquehanna River.
Arway concluded his testimony by sharing with legislators various options the PFBC is examining as ways to raise revenue. He continued to advocate for a consumptive use and degradation of water fee as one of the most sustainable sources of long-term funding, with the revenue being reinvested in conservation programs like those of the PFBC. He also raised the possibility of the PFBC receiving funding from any proposal which would uncap the oil company franchise tax.
“Depending on the will of the committee members and others in the legislature to allocate a portion of an uncapped oil company franchise tax, this could present a multi-million dollar opportunity for sustaining programs for our waterways and spurring reinvestments in your districts,” he said. “We welcome the chance to be a part of the conversation this spring.”