Fishing license rules, purchase system may change

Posted on: May 13, 2017 | Bob Frye | Comments

Fish in Pennsylvania and you’ve got to visibly display your license, by attaching it to your hat, shirt, lifejacket or something similar.

But that could change.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission sells about 15 percent of its licenses online. It would like to do more.

The problem is that its sales system is not scalable for all devices.

“It’s almost impossible to buy (licenses) on a smartphone,” said commission executive director John Arway.

That’s something the agency wants to address. Doing so, though, will require a change in the display rule.

Because anglers who buy their license via phone can’t print one immediately, the commission may go to a voluntary display rule.

In that case, anglers could buy a license as they do now and wear it. that might make it less likely they’d be checked by a waterways conservation officer, Arway said. Or, he added, they could buy a license online and have it on their phone. The trade-off is they might get checked more often.

Commissioner Ed Mascharka of Erie County likes the idea.

“I can turn around and show you my license on my phone when you walk up to me, and there’s nothing wrong with that,” Mascharka said. “A lot of states do that already.”

Staff will be presenting some ideas to commissioners sooner rather than later, Arway said.

Any change in the display rule will likely be made in conjunction with selecting a new vendor to sell licenses. The Fish and Boat Commission – like the Game Commission – is in search of a one right now.

They might end up with the same one.

Or they might not.

Currently the two agencies utilize the same vendor – Automated Technologies – to sell licenses. The contract is coming to an end, though.

So little more than a month ago the two agencies issued a joint “request for proposals,” seeking a new vendor to operate a similar joint system for them for 10 years.

But there’s more.

Fish and Boat issued a second request asking companies to give them a price for buying its own sales system outright.

“I felt it was incumbent upon us to look at all the options and put them on the table,” Arway said.

If it goes that route, though, the commission will do so on its own.

Fish and Boat leaders asked their Game Commission counterparts if they might want to partner in buying a system. The answer was no.

The reason, said spokesman Travis Lau, is that it would require the commission to “front millions of dollars.”

“The agency simply does not have the financial means to pay for this system upfront,” Lau said.

He added that the transaction-based system like the one in place in most states now is “a time-proven approach has provided our hunters and trappers with the service they demand in the most efficient and effective means possible.”

A decision one way or the other will come soon.

Brian Barner, deputy executive director at Fish and Boat, said the commissions are pursuing an “aggressive timeline” to pick a license vendor by Dec. 1 of this year, then have its system go live on Feb. 1, 2019.

Bob Frye is the editor. Reach him at 412-838-5148 or See other stories, blogs, videos and more at

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