Voluntary permits for are one option Fish and Boat Commissioners are considering to raise money.
Bob Frye/Everybody Adventures
Anglers across Pennsylvania haven’t been forced to pay more to fish for a while now.
License fees haven’t increased since 2005.
But might they be willing to pay more voluntarily?
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is going to find out.
Agency staff and board members are looking at ways of increasing revenue. One idea, expected to be formally proposed at the commission’s next quarterly meeting in July, is to sell voluntary permits.
Four are in the works: a musky permit; bass permit; wild trout and enhanced waters permit; and a habitat/waterways conservation permit.
Prices for the voluntary permits aren’t set yet. But the hope is anglers will buy them to support the fisheries they most enjoy.
They might even get something in return.
“Instead of just rolling out a permit, we want to try to put some kind of program behind it, so that customers get something for it rather than just the permit or the ability to make a donation,” said deputy executive director Brian Barner.
Yet to be determined, too, is when the voluntary permits might be available. It’s looking as if that might be next year, though.
That’s because of a couple of issues with PALS, the automated system used to sell licenses.
The commission shares the system with the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Both are switching to a new vendor, Sovereign Sportsman Solutions of Nashville, Tenn.
That change-over is likely coming in February or March.
At that time, Fish and Boat will have the ability to add permits to the sales system at no cost, Barner said.
It may cost money to add them to the existing license system before then, he said.
There’s also the issue of “blackouts.”
There are certain times of year – centered around peak license sales periods – when each commission prohibits changes to the system. The Fish and Boat Commission closes things down in spring, prior to opening day of trout season
The Game Commission’s blackout period is fast approaching. Hunting licenses for 2018-19 go on sale in mid-June.
So a lot of factors will come into play as far as timing, Barner said. While the commission would like to “shoehorn” sales in yet t his year if possible, “all indicators are looking that 2019 is the ideal time,” Barner said.
The permits are part of a larger overall plan for raising money wherever possible.
Commissioners already – for the first time in 11 years — increased the cost of subscriptions to the agency’s magazine, Angler & Boater. Under the new pricing, a one-year subscription will increase from $12 to $20 and a three-year subscription from $30 to $48. The new rate will go into effect on Sept. 1.
The commission is also going to try selling advertising in the magazine.
Next, commissioners are going to follow the lead of the Game Commission and start charging anglers who want a digest with their license.
The Game Commission charged hunters and trappers $6 for a rule book last year. Fish and Boat Commissioners are thinking of charging $2, though that’s not official yet either.
There are some other things to figure out, too.
“There are some logistical issues, like how do we get them out to the customers?” Barner said. “Will the current PALS vendors handle them all? Do we mail them?
“We’re trying to work through some of those things.”
Other fee increases are also in the works.
The commission, working with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, hopes to hike the price of launch permits for canoes, kayaks and other unpowered boats by March. It’s also looking at parking or entrance permits for people who use commission-owned lands for things other than fishing and boating; higher fees for scientific collector permits held by university researchers; increased fees for venomous snake permits; a snapping turtle permit; and a firewood cutting permit, among other things.
Preliminary plans are to implement those at various times in 2019, too.
A plan for voluntary permits and other fees
Commissioner Bill Brock of Elk County would like to see two things when it comes time for the board to vote on each idea.
First, he’d like the commission to first give state lawmakers a heads-up on what’s coming.
Last September, the board – in a 6-4 vote – voted to close hatcheries and take other cost-cutting steps starting July 1. Those $2 million in cuts caught lawmakers by surprise.
All sorts of controversy resulted.
He said it’s important these fee proposals aren’t likewise “misinterpreted.”
“I think given the tough year we’ve been through, that would probably be a really good idea,” Brock said.
Second, he’d like to see some kind of annual, incremental fee increase attached to each price hike.
Rather than have to vote each year to raise fees, he said, they should annually increase automatically in connection with the consumer price index or some other measure of inflation, he added.
Commissioner Richard Lewis of Adams County “strongly endorsed” that idea.
When he was director of a trade association, he said, raising dues or project costs by large amounts, even if years apart, was “like trying to pull my members’ teeth without novocaine.” They were much more accepting of small, annual increases of 1 to 2 percent.
The commission should likewise go the route of smaller, if more frequent, fee hikes, he said.
“I think we need to build that into everything we do,” Lewis said.
Commission executive director John Arway likes that idea.
The commission, he said, has been asking state lawmakers to do that same thing, namely increase fishing licenses fees annually, but by small amounts, to keep pace with inflation.
“Now we can use this as a demonstration that we’re willing to do it on our own,” Arway said.