On March 30, 2016, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) will celebrate the 150th anniversary of its founding as one of the nation’s oldest conservation agencies. The agency was founded on March 30, 1866.
Over the last 150 years, the Commission has evolved from a one-man operation funded solely by the general fund to an agency of 432 staff funded by anglers and boaters through license and registration fees and federal excise taxes on fishing and boating equipment.
The origins of the PFBC date to 1866 when a convention was held in Harrisburg to investigate water pollution being caused by the wholesale logging of Pennsylvania’s forests and the impacts caused by sedimentation of mountain lakes and streams. There were also serious concerns about the reduction of American Shad runs in the Susquehanna River. This discussion resulted in Governor Andrew Curtin signing into law Act of March 30, 1866 (P.L. 370, No. 336), which named James Worrall Pennsylvania’s first Commissioner of Fisheries.
In 1925, Act 1925-263 established the Board of Fish Commissioners. Then, in 1949, Act 1949-180 officially established the Pennsylvania Fish Commission as an agency and described its powers and duties. The Commission appointed Charles A. French as its first executive director in 1949, and in 1991 under Act 1991-39, the Pennsylvania Fish Commission became the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
The PFBC’s philosophy is “Resource First: Protect, Conserve and Enhance.” Most important is the need to first protect the state’s aquatic resources in order to have great recreational fishing and boating. The PFBC works to protect, conserve and enhance fish, reptiles, amphibian and aquatic organisms and their habitats for the benefit of all Pennsylvanians. PFBC efforts ensure healthy fish and wildlife populations, conservation of critical habitats and supports over 2 billion dollars in annual fishing and boating related economic impact. The PFBC provides boating opportunities and protects public safety on the waterways setting fishing and boating regulations and enforcing them. The quality of life is improved for all Pennsylvanians by the programs and services it provides.
They are a user-funded agency – meaning it receives no PA General Fund tax revenue to support its programs. The Commission operates out of two special funds: the Fish Fund and the Boat Fund. The principal sources of revenue for the Fish Fund are fishing licenses and fees (about 66%) and federal funds (about 22%) obtained from taxes on fishing-related items. For the Boat Fund, boat registration/titling fees, refunds of liquid fuels taxes on gas used by motorboats and federal aid are the top revenue categories.
The Commission controls through state ownership, lease, or easements approximately 33,500 acres of land in the state. This includes 14 hatcheries, 62 public lakes and 250 boating access areas. They also have control of over 86,000 miles of streams, nearly 4,000 lakes and reservoirs, over 404,000 acres of wetlands and 63 miles of Lake Erie shoreline.
Below are some interesting tidbits which took place over the years. For more information about the 150th Anniversary, including a chronology of events and historic photographs.
In 1922, the first resident fishing licenses were required. The cost was $1. For the first time the Commission became self-supporting; a total of $207,425.53 was the first year’s income for licenses sold to all citizens over 21 years of age. Today, the cost of a resident license is $22.70 for ages 16 and up.
On July 1, 1931, licenses for motorboats became a requirement to be operated on inland waters. Fees set at $1 per cylinder for internal combustion motors and $2 for electric motors. Enforcement of law placed with Fish Commission. Since 2005, it costs $9 per year for unpowered boats, $13 for motorboats less than 16 feet in length, $19.50 for motorboats greater than 16 and less than 20 feet in length, and $26 for motorboats 20 feet or longer in length.
The 100th Anniversary of the Commission was observed in 1966 and on March 9, 1970, the Brook Trout was named the official state fish.
In 1974 the Commission took over the jurisdiction of reptiles, amphibians and aquatic organisms in the state.
In 1984, the name of “waterways patrolman” was changed to “waterways conservation officer.” Also, enacted was one of first boating under the influence (BUI) implied consent laws in United States.
The Pennsylvania Fish Commission became the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission in 1991.