The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants to increase the cost of a trout stamp. That’s a given.
But by how much?
Officials with the commission haven’t crafted any specific proposal yet, but they did give lawmakers some ideas on a starting point.
Executive director John Arway addressed members of the state Senate game and fisheries committees recently. He told them that the money raised by selling stamps has never completely covered the cost of raising and stocking trout.
The problem is, it’s now covering less than ever.
In 1991, when the $5 trout stamp was created, the commission sold nearly 738,000 of them, generating $3.7 million. That covered 57 percent of the cost of the stocked trout program, Arway said.
The price of a trout stamp went up to $8 in 2005, the only time it’s ever increased.
Yet, in 2014, the commission sold just 594,000. That generated $4.7 million, but covered only 46 percent of the cost of trout program.
If nothing changes – if the number of trout anglers stays steady, and costs continue to rise as expected – trout stamp revenues will cover just 30 percent of the cost of raising fish by 2021, Arway said.
That’s not sustainable, he said.
The commission has considered some options, though.
If the price of trout stamps and trout/Lake Erie combo stamps increased by $5 starting in 2017, the commission would make an additional $1.7 million, Arway said. That would get revenues to the point they covered 49 percent of the $13 million cost of stocking trout that year.
If trout stamps and combo stamps went up by $8 each, that would generate about $2.6 million and pay for 56 percent of program costs.
Then he rolled out what appears to be the commission’s favored plan. That would be increasing the price of stamps once, then automatically increasing them each year – albeit by a smaller amount, say $1 — for four more years.
“Without the annual increases, higher costs would quickly erode the percentage of the trout program that could be covered by the permit fees, and we would soon need another multiple-dollar increase,” Arway said.
Lawmakers asked if the commission has approached sportsmen with those ideas, and what they had to say.
Arway said the commission has not proposed any particular fee to sportsmen. But the state’s organized anglers have “given us conceptual approval” for moving forward, he added.
“This is the first time we’ve talked about what different funding scenarios mean relative to what our needs are,” he said.
Now the debate will begin.
Some anglers will drop out of the ranks if prices increase. That’s the way things always go.
But what’s the alternative? Fewer stocked fish?
That won’t make anyone happy either.