HARRISBURG, Pa. (July 20) – During its formal quarterly business meeting held virtually on July 20, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) Board of Commissioners voted to adopt a new Strategic Plan to guide the agency over the next three years. Since the spring of 2019, PFBC executive staff, members of the Board of Commissioners, and members of the Boating Advisory Board have been collaborating on a new strategic plan through multiple facilitated work sessions. The process resulted in a strategic plan consisting of a new vision statement, guiding principles, values, and six high-level priorities with corresponding goals to help the Commission better fulfill its mission.
"The Strategic Plan is very ambitious because it fully recognizes the broad diversity of the Commonwealth's citizen's, natural resources, and recreational fishing and boating opportunities," said Tim Schaeffer, PFBC Executive Director. "This plan, which includes a high level of details and deadlines associated with each goal, ensures that we are continuously held accountable as we serve millions of anglers and boaters and aquatic resources across Pennsylvania."
The Strategic Plan is designed to be specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-bound with goals that can be translated into work plans to guide major efforts through July 30, 2023. The Strategic Plan can be reviewed on the PFBC website.
In other action, the Board elected new officers. Richard Lewis of Gettysburg, Adams County, was appointed as President. Lewis, who serves as a Boating-at-Large Commissioner, replaces Eric Hussar of Lewisburg, Union County, as president. Hussar will remain on the Board as District 5 commissioner, representing Bradford, Columbia, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Sullivan, Tioga and Union counties.
"Eric provided outstanding Commission leadership over the past two years," said Lewis, in thanking Hussar. "During his President's terms the Commission moved forward with the development and approval of a three-year Strategic Plan, achieved historic legislation authorizing the Commission to establish fee levels necessary for long-term sustainability, and completed the training and graduation of 19 new Waterways Conservation Officers who are already hard at work serving our anglers and boaters during this busy summer on the water."
In accepting the appointment Lewis stated, "Many thanks to my fellow Commissioners for the trust they have placed in me. As we move through the next year, I'm looking forward to seeing the Bureau of Boating established and staffed, to implementing our new strategic plan goals and projects, to sustaining the increased interest and participation in fishing and boating across Pennsylvania, and to resurveying our diverse angler population to determine their needs and wants." Lewis added, "I don't come into this office with a wish list of personal agenda items to achieve but rather a strong desire to use our Commonwealth's bountiful water, aquatic, and fishery resources to serve the needs of all anglers and boaters while protecting the health and safety of the Commission's employees, partners, volunteers, and customers during the COVID-19 pandemic."
Richard Kauffman of Leesport, Berks County, was elected as Vice President. Kauffman, who serves as District 8 commissioner, representing Berks, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia and Schuylkill counties, replaces Lewis as Vice President. Both Lewis and Kauffman will serve one-year terms through July 2021.
In other action, Commissioners voted to authorize grant funds that will help preserve public fishing opportunities along a portion of Conewago Creek in Adams County. The property is located along Conewago Creek near Russel Tavern Road and Zeigler Mill Road and will provide public fishing access to 5,340 linear ft. of stream frontage. Commissioners authorized a grant not to exceed $84,000 to the Land Conservancy of Adams County for the acquisition of 58 acres along Conewago Creek in Butler Township, Adams County. The Conservancy plans to purchase the property and transfer ownership to the Commission. The total cost of the acquisition is $441,156. The Conservancy has also applied to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for half of the appraised value of the property and half of the acquisition costs ($220,578). The Conservancy will provide $120,578 towards the acquisition. The Adams County Trout Unlimited Chapter will provide $16,000.
In Centre County, the Board approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend fishing regulations along Bald Eagle Creek. Under the proposal, Section 03 of Bald Eagle Creek would be managed under an experimental Miscellaneous Special Regulation designed to enhance stocked trout management. This regulation will be identical to the current Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only (58 Pa. Code §65.6) regulation; however, all tackle types will be permitted. As such, the regulation allows for year-round angling with all tackle types and harvest of up to three trout per day at least nine inches in length from June 15 through Labor Day, with no harvest permitted the remainder of the year. The regulation is designed to provide for an extended period of catch and release angling with all tackle types for stocked trout; then, as stream conditions become less favorable for trout survival due to decreased flow and elevated water temperatures, harvest is permitted under a reduced creel limit. The objectives are to reduce fishing mortality during the catch and release period, maintain high trout population densities to provide for high angler catch rates, recycle stocked trout to optimize their recreational benefit, provide high-quality angling opportunity for stocked trout in the absence of tackle restrictions, and evaluate the use of bait in a delayed harvest regulatory setting. If approved on final rulemaking at a future meeting, the amendment will go into effect on January 1, 2021.
In other action, Commissioners approved the designation of five stream sections to the list of Class A wild trout streams. The board also approved the addition of 73 new waters to the Commission's list of wild trout streams. These additions will go into effect upon the publication of a second notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. A list of waters proposed for wild trout stream and Class A Wild Trout Stream designation can be found on the PFBC website.
Related to trout fishing, the Commission reminds anglers to take summer weather conditions into consideration when enjoying local waterways. In many cases during very hot and dry conditions, trout will seek out the closest source of cold water to provide thermal relief. This often results in many trout congregating at the mouths of cool-water tributaries or spring seeps. The Commission asks anglers to consider that while crowded and thermally stressed trout in a pool of water may look like an easy target, these fish are typically in poor condition and difficult to catch. Anglers should avoid fishing for trout during these conditions, as it can have lasting impacts on the population.
In Huntingdon County, Commissioners approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend fishing regulations at Whipple Lake. Under the proposal, the 22-acre impoundment owned by the PA DCNR, located within Whipple Dam State Park, would be regulated under Miscellaneous Special Regulations allowing for harvest of trout but catch and release for all other species. Whipple Lake was drawn down in 2019 for dam structure improvements and sediment removal. With construction nearing completion, the Commission plans to initiate stocking the lake in spring 2021, or as soon as refilling conditions allow, with adult trout and fingerling plants of select fish species to establish a high-quality warm-water and cool-water fishery. This regulation would allow for the Commission to open the lake to fishing immediately upon refill under a special regulation that will allow for the harvest of trout under Commonwealth Inland Waters angling regulations but allow only catch-and-release fishing for all other fish species. Once the warm-water fishery is re-established, the lake will be recommended for removal from the Miscellaneous Special Regulation and inclusion in one of the Commission's existing warm-water regulation programs. If approved on final rulemaking at a future meeting, the amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
Also, in Huntingdon County, Commissioners approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend fishing regulations at Lake Perez. Under the proposal, Lake Perez, a 72-acre impoundment owned by the Pennsylvania State University, would be removed from the list of waters managed under Miscellaneous Special Regulations allowing for the harvest of trout but catch and release for all other species. These special regulations have been in place since 2015, when a dam reconstruction project was completed at Lake Perez, and the lake was refilled and restocked and following a complete drawdown. PFBC surveys of the lake during 2019 and 2020 have revealed that warmwater species, including bass and panfish, have become abundant enough to sustain limited harvest. If the Miscellaneous Special Regulation is removed on final rulemaking, Lake Perez will be recommended for addition to the Panfish Enhancement program. All other species will be managed with Commonwealth Inland Waters angling regulations. If approved on final rulemaking at a future meeting, the amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
In Cumberland County, the Board approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking to amend fishing regulations at Opossum Lake. Under the proposal, Opossum Lake, a 47-acre impoundment owned by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and managed by the PFBC, would be removed from the list of waters managed under Miscellaneous Special Regulations allowing for the harvest of trout but catch and release for all other species. These special regulations have been in place since 2012, when a dam reconstruction project was completed at Opossum Lake, and the lake was refilled and restocked following a complete drawdown. PFBC surveys of the lake from 2015-2020 have revealed that warmwater species, including bass and panfish, have become abundant enough to sustain limited harvest. If the Miscellaneous Special Regulation is removed on final rulemaking, Opossum Lake will be recommended for addition to the Big Bass and Panfish Enhancement programs. All other species will be managed with Commonwealth Inland Waters angling regulations. If approved on final rulemaking at a future meeting, the amendment will go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
The Board approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to boating and waterskiing regulations at Blue Marsh Lake in Berks County. This 1,148-acre flood control project managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is a busy boating destination regulated by Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Code, specifically Section 111.6, Berks County. Blue Marsh Lake has three specific regulations that deviate from the statewide recreational boating regulations regarding exhausts, no wake zones, and water-skiers. Specifically, subsection (3) states that "a boat may not tow more than one water-skier." This limitation deviates from the standard utilized throughout the Commonwealth where the number of skiers is determined by the boat's persons capacity. Recently USACE leadership has changed their local policy/regulation adopting the standard skiing regulation. They have petitioned the Commission to make the same change in Title 58 so Waterways Conservation Officers can continue to assist in enforcement. If adopted on final rulemaking at a future meeting, this amendment would go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
In similar action, Commissioners approved the publication of a notice of proposed rulemaking pertaining to boating regulations at Shenango River Lake in Mercer County. This 3,560-acre flood control project managed by the USACE has several boating regulations in place that vary from those enforced within Title 58 of the Pennsylvania Code. Specifically, subsection (1) states that "the use of motors in excess of 10 horsepower are prohibited in the area west of the Penn Central Railroad (Levittsburg) causeway to the Ohio line." Recently USACE leadership has changed their local policy/regulation adopting a 20- horsepower restriction west of the causeway. They have petitioned the Commission to make the same change to Title 58 so Waterways Conservation Officers can continue to assist in enforcement. The proposed amendment was approved by the Boating Advisory Board at their June 23, 2020 meeting. If adopted on final rulemaking at a future Commission meeting, this amendment would go into effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.
The Board adopted a resolution commending the efforts of PFBC staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. The resolution recognized the perseverance and teamwork of agency employees amid the challenges presented by the pandemic, including continuing to provide Pennsylvanians with safe, enjoyable outdoor recreation opportunities that greatly benefit mental and physical health during a time of considerable stress and uncertainty. The resolution also commended PFBC staff for completing annual spring stocking operations within hundreds of Pennsylvania waterways without the assistance of community volunteers due to ongoing public health concerns.
PFBC Bureau of Law Enforcement Director Col. Corey Britcher provided the Board with a report related to enhanced Boating Under the Influence (BUI) enforcement surrounding the Independence Day holiday weekend. Britcher reported that from July 3-5, PFBC Waterways Conservation Officers (WCO) participated in Operation Dry Water, a nationally coordinated effort between to law enforcement agencies to prevent boating incidents related to impairment. Throughout the operations in Pennsylvania, WCOs and other officers came into contact with 2,490 boats, resulting in 298 boating infractions, 1,224 warnings, and 14 BUI arrests. One of the arrests was due to drug-related impairment. The highest recorded blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) was .237. Britcher noted that prior to the enhanced BUI enforcement period, the PFBC led a statewide media campaign to alert the public and stress the importance of staying sober while operating watercraft.
In his report to the Board, Executive Director Schaeffer also stressed the importance of boating safety education. Schaeffer indicated that seven boating related fatalities have already occurred during 2020, and none of the victims were wearing life jackets. Schaeffer mentioned that sales of PFBC launch permits for unpowered boats such as kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards, have increased by approximately 50% amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With more new boaters on the water this season, Schaeffer urged the public to become familiar with basis boating safety steps, including wearing a life jacket, having a float plan, never drinking under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and monitoring weather conditions to avoid storms and high-water conditions.
The next meeting of the PFBC Board of Commissioners is scheduled for October 19-20, 2020 in at PFBC Headquarters located at 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA. If an in-person meeting is not possible due to continued public health concerns, information regarding a virtual meeting will be announced later.
Today's meeting was streamed live on Facebook and can be viewed here: https://www.facebook.com/PaFishandBoat/videos/274609257155762/?v=315523766295249