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Reminder:This info maybe forwarded as long as PA Legislative Services and the PFSC are given credit for providing this info.
House Game and Fisheries Committee
10:00 a.m., 2/17/10, Room 60 East Wing
By Joseph McGarrity, PLS Intern

The committee received the 2009 annual report from the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Members in attendance included Chairman Edward Staback (D-Lackawanna), Minority Chairman Ron Miller (R-York), and Representatives Mark Keller (R-Perry), Kevin Murphy (D-Lackawanna), Dom Costa (D-Alleghany), Neal Goodman (D-Schuylkill), Deberah Kula (D-Fayette), David Levdansky (D-Alleghany), Michael McGeehan (D-Philadelphia), Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) Keith Gillespie (R-York), Dan Moul (R-Adams), and Curt Sonney (R-Erie).

Brian Barner, acting Executive Director of the PA Fish and Boat Commission, presented the annual report to the committee. Barner was joined by Tom Kamerzel, Director of Law Enforcement for the PA Fish and Boat Commission, Dave Miko, Chief, Bureau of Fisheries, PA Fish and Boat Commission, and Dr. Tim Schaeffer, Director of Policy, Planning, and Communications for the PA Fish and Boat Commission. Barner opened by stating the purpose of the Commission is "to protect, conserve, and enhance the Commonwealth's aquatic resources, and provide fishing and boating opportunities." Barner touched on some "highlights" for the Commission from the past year. He revealed the Commission increased its license sales by more 4% in the past year and stated that "these increases reinforce the notion that people return to fishing as an affordable, family-oriented activity in hard economic times." According to Barner boaters and anglers make a significant contribution to PA's economy that amounts to about $3.4 billion annually.

Another event that Barner highlighted was the "Forest Wood Cup fishing tournament" that showcased one of the "Commonwealth's first-class fisheries." Barner also mentioned how the Commission worked in conjunction with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to better protect the Delaware River and how the Commission is currently working with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the U.S. EPA to solve the issue of large numbers of dead smallmouth bass in the Susquehanna Watershed. Barner also gave attention to the upgrades and improvements the PA Fish and Boat Commission has made on several of its hatcheries and dams due to the Growing Greener II-funded hatchery improvement projects. Barner stated the Commission was awarded $10.2 million through the H2O PA Act that was used to make "needed repairs and upgrades to the five Commonwealth-owned high hazard dams." He noted the Commission will need another $50 million to make improvements to its other nine high hazard dams.

Although Barner acknowledged and agreed with the need for the development of natural gas activity in the Marcellus Shale region, he did voice concerns over consequences from drilling such as the "spread of invasive species, the impact of drilling and drilling infrastructure on the quality of our streams, and the handling of wastewater." Barner suggested a way to "ensure the aquatic resources" is to wisely use revenue gained from the proposed severance tax to fund natural resource conservation. Barner also warned that the revenues gained by the license fee increase will soon be depleted and stated that the Commission, during the next several fiscal periods, will be forced to "spend down, or use up, our cash reserves" to maintain the level of service currently provided. Barner also unveiled an "innovative license fee package" based on modest annual fee increases, a one-time fee, and promotional offers.

Chairman Staback asked if the commission studied the long term impact offering husband and wife promotional licenses. Barner responded that the Commission needs flexibility to offer alternative licensing and that such licensing could be great for promotions but he stated that such promotions would not fix the budget problems. Chairman Staback also commented on the protocol that ensures PA Game Commission and PA Fish and Boat Commission alternate their licensing fee increase so as to not over burden sportsmen. Chairman Staback asked if progress has been made in the labor negotiations. Kamerzel answered that progress has been made with the Waterways Conservation Officers (WCO). Kamerzel noted that the WCOs left the AFSCME bargaining unit and joined the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) in 2007. Kamerzel stated that the Commission received the contract proposal in 2008 and began bargaining in September 2008. Kamerzel reiterated that progress has been made but mentioned wages and benefits were not yet worked out.

Kamerzel stated the "goal is to have the same wage/benefit package that the Wildlife Conservation Officers receive." Chairman Staback questioned if the Commission is prepared for the financial impact of a new labor agreement. Kamerzel responded that the commission is prepared and produced a fiscal note based on the previous AFSCME procedures and mentioned that adjustments could be made depending on the structure of the new agreement. Chairman Staback asked hypothetically if an agreement is not reached, would the Commission be able to handle a strike around the time trout stocking occurs. Kamerzel stated that there is not a lot of reason the union will move to a strike but acknowledged "it certainly is an option they have". Kamerzel continued that there are a lot of young officers on the force and a strike would be "very difficult on them" to pay their bills and expenses.

According to Kamerzel, the commission does have contingency plans to deal with a worker strike and would ensure that all the stocking of trout took place. Chairman Staback inquired if Dr. Doug Austin, the previous executive director, is still under contract. Barner responded that Dr. Austin did retire but he has been asked to assist in finishing some projects and initiatives.

Minority Chairman Miller asked what role the Commission has in monitoring the Marcellus Shale activity and how they interact with the lease holder, the PA Game Commission, and DEP. Schaeffer responded that the Commission reviews permits to discover what the impacts are on the species in the region and the WCOs "share responsibility to enforce environmental laws in the state." Schaeffer stated that there is a "permit role, monitoring role, and technical assistance role" that the PA Fish and Boat Commission has in dealing with Marcellus Shale drilling activity. Minority Chairman Miller asked if the Commission has enough personnel to address "all these issues." Schaeffer responded the Commission likes to be "proactive" and noted additional personnel may be needed with the developments in Marcellus Shale mining to handle the increase in activity.

Rep. Kula asked if the "trout in the classroom" program can be further explained. Barner explained that the commission has a series of aquatic resource programs available and continued that the eggs are delivered to the classroom where they are raised by the class with the support of the teacher. Schaeffer further explained that Trout Unlimited issued a grant to the PA Fish and Boat Commission to keep this program running. According to Schaeffer the eggs and training are provided by the Commission but the tank must be funded by the school. Schaeffer stated the program is a "good biology lesson for the students" because some of the fish don't always survive. Schaeffer noted the growth of the program "has been exponential over the past couple years."

Rep. Moul asked if the issue of abandoned dams is under the PA Fish and Boat Commission's authority. Kamerzel responded that the WCOs periodically inspect abandoned dams in the Commonwealth and they erect signs around abandoned dams to warn the public of dangers. Kamerzel also mentioned the Commission attempts to discover who owns the right to the dam. Rep. Moul asked if there are position vacancies for WCOs at the Commission. Kamerzel responded there are 12 vacant WCO positions, six district field officer positions, three regional supervisor and three regional manager positions are vacant. Rep. Moul inquired to the salary range of a WCO. Kamerzel answered they start off around $36,000 and are capable of picking up between 150 hours and 175 hours of overtime annually.

Chairman Staback asked for an elaboration on the "point-of-sale" program. Barner explained the program is starting its third year and the goal of the program is to gather "accurate customer data" and to be the basis for developing a "database of our customers." Barner continued that another goal of the program is to encourage people to purchase fishing licenses. Chairman Staback asked if the Commission contacts people who purchased licenses in the past but do not purchase any longer. Barner responded that they do send out notifications to renew for people who purchased licenses over the previous two years. Barner did mention the option of conducting follow-up surveys but stated they need the funding and the Commission is "not there yet."

Rep. McGeehan asked about the health of the striped bass in the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and the determination that the Delaware has a self sustaining population of Shad. Barner responded that it is a very interesting topic and they believe that in regards to the Schuylkill River there are impoundments that hinder the Shad from returning from the ocean to spawn. Barner also stated that many of the problems the Shad encounter may be from predatory issues they encounter in the Ocean. Miko went on to explain that Shad are netted as "by-catch" by commercial fishermen. Miko stated "a large part of the problem is in the ocean fishery" and the issue is an Atlantic Coast problem. Miko mentioned that studies have shown enough Shad are returning to sustain their population. Rep. McGeehan asked why the Commission does not undertake a similar program that has been established in the Potomac River that increased the Shad population. Miko explained that raised Shad often compete for resource with wild Shad in the Delaware while most of the Shad in the Potomac River are raised and released and do not have to compete for resources. Rep. McGeehan asked what affect dredging has on the Delaware River. Miko stated he was unable to answer at the time.

Rep. Gillespie asked if the upgrades to the dams and fisheries were needed due to Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). Barner responded that the upgrades were not needed due to PCBs. Rep. Gillespie asked where the Commission stands with PCBs. Schaeffer answered that PCBs are not an issue at most of the hatcheries and levels of PCBs are considerably low in hatchery fish if they are present at all. Rep. Gillespie asked what types of invasive species are being spread because of the Marcellus Shale. Schaeffer responded that two specific examples are golem algae and zebra mussels. Schaeffer mentioned that the Susquehanna Water Basin Authority is requiring disinfection of drilling equipment to help fight the spread of invasive species. Rep. Gillespie asked how the commission monitors the thousands of streams for wild trout. Schaeffer responded that the steams are monitored by electric shock.

Chairman Staback asked what is causing the small mouth bass in the Susquehanna River to not survive. Miko responded that the low survival rate could be caused by a parasite that is weakening the immune systems of the fish and adding stress factors to the fish that don't allow them to fight off infection. Miko stated, however, that they are "unable to find a smoking gun." Miko also mentioned that the problem did not manifest itself as severely during periods of high water and cooler temperatures.

Rep. Levdansky asked what the overall fund balance is of the PA Fish and Boat Commission. Barner revealed the fund balance is about $31 million of "usable" revenue. Rep. Levdansky asked the total amount of the Growing Greener II grants that the Commission has used. Barner answered that the Commission received $27.5 million from that fund and stated the Commission will "use every cent." Barner noted that the money is being used for five major projects and several smaller projects. Rep. Levdansky stated that the PA Fish and Boat Commission needs to boost revenue and "when we do the gas severance tax we earmark a little piece of it to help fund the operations of the Game Commission and Fish and Boat Commission."

Minority Chairman Miller questioned why the Commission is not raising small mouth bass. Miko responded that small mouth bass are capable of reproducing on their own and when they are raised in hatcheries and released they do not have a significant impact. Miko continued that when hatchery small mouth bass are released they are "subjected to the same stressors" and have a low survival rate.
 

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Shad populations are being limited by catches from commercial fishermen, and dams that block their runs up the Schuylkill.

And smallmouth bass are dying in the Susquehanna because of infections, apparently triggered by warm, low water flows, and perhaps organic pollution.

The House Game & Fisheries suggestions: stock shad, stock smallmouth. It shows, once again, how little they know about fisheries topics. They are a negative influence on fisheries management in PA.
 

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Suppose that same lack of knowledge also spills over into their "suggestions" for improving our deer hunting, too?



Was hoping at least some of them knew something about fish?

 
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