It’s tough to catch up with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission executive director John Arway this time of year.
With winter finally giving way to spring, Arway is either on the water casting a line, on the road meeting anglers, or in Harrisburg tackling legislative issues and overseeing the agency.
Arway has been the PFBC’s executive director since 2010, and has worked for the agency in various roles for 30 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh and a master’s degree in biology from Tennessee Technological University.
But first and foremost, Arway is an angler with a passion for the sport that reflects into the energy he puts into his job.
The Times Leader caught up with Arway, in between casts, to talk about the upcoming trout season, stocking, license sales and just a little bit of fishing in general.
Is it true that fishing license sales are increasing by 7 to 8 percent, and how much of this do you attribute to things like multi-year licenses, mentored and youth licenses, buttons and going out to streams to personally thank anglers?
“That figure was accurate around mid-March. Because of the inclement weather we had surrounding the regional opener on March 29 and later flooded streams, sales slowed significantly. However, due to prior year multi-year license sales and voluntary youth licenses, we remain in the black and sales are currently up by 1 percent. This is great news and demonstrates that the multi-year license is working exactly how we had envisioned it. Now that the weather is improving, anglers are getting back into the swing of things and licenses are selling again. So far, we have sold almost 900 voluntary youth fishing licenses, and nearly 1,500 youth anglers have obtained a free mentored youth fishing permit. Although alternate display fishing license buttons do not directly affect our fishing license sales totals, they do stimulate interest in fishing, and we have sold over 2,700 to date.”
With the Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day coming up on May 10 what are your goals for this new program?
“This program is designed to encourage adults to take kids fishing, to show them that fishing is fun, and to promote active, outdoor recreation. In 2013, we conducted a pilot Mentored Youth Trout Fishing Day on 12 waters in the 18-county regional opening day zone. Because of the success and popularity of this pilot, we’ve expanded it to a statewide pilot in 2014. Special youth days such as these offer engaging opportunities for both youth and their parents or other mentors. Since the proceeds of the voluntary youth fishing license will be dedicated to be spent on youth fishing programs, I am confident that we can increase youth participation rates in fishing in the near future with other target programs for kids.”
I’m hearing a lot of anglers say how pleased they are with how the trout look this year. Have there been any changes to how they’re raised at the hatcheries that may have resulted in better fish this season?
“Last year, we had to stock out some fish that were smaller than we would have liked. We had some issues with water quality and feeding at a hatchery that impacted trout size. We were also short-staffed, which made it more difficult to monitor conditions at the hatcheries, such as grading and frequent inventories. This year, we have more fish culturists on site, which has helped us maintain our production standards. We also have a couple of new hatchery managers who have really been focused on making improvements and getting fish out to the anglers at a good size.”
Any goals for changes in overall trout production? Can it be maintained at this level and is it possible to see any increase?
“Currently, we don’t have plans for any changes. Our goals are set by our hatchery carrying capacities, which are currently at about 1.9 million pounds (or 3.2 million trout at 11-inch average). We can continue to rear that amount of trout but as everyone seems to know, feed costs and other expenses continue to rise. For us to continue producing the same amount of trout, we will need additional funding to cover rising costs and also maintain the infrastructure of 14 state fish hatcheries around the commonwealth.
If we don’t see increased funding for these basic expenses, as well as increasing pension and health care costs for our employees, some changes will need to be made.”
There are fewer streams being stocked, so does that mean there are more trout being released into other waters? Could anglers see a benefit in that regard?
“Not necessarily. Maximum adult trout production from Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission hatcheries is approximately 3.2 million fish. Once the actual number of trout available for stocking is known, the Division of Fisheries Management uses a stocking formula in an effort to equitably allocate these fish in waters throughout the commonwealth. Some of the information used in the formula includes angler access, posting against trespass and human population density in the area surrounding the stocked stream section. As area fisheries managers conduct routine surveys of our stocked waters and update this information, annual changes to the number of trout that are stocked into a particular body of water can change.
More recently, the PFBC has repaired, and continues to make repairs to, PFBC-owned lakes. If one of these lakes is a trout-stocked lake and the lake needs to be drawn down, the trout that were historically allocated to that lake are put back into the system and reallocated equitable across the commonwealth, resulting in a small increase in the numbers of trout stocked in other waters. Conversely, when a lake is repaired and trout need to once again be stocked into the lake, waters across the commonwealth may see a small decrease in their annual allocation in an effort to stock the appropriate number of fish in the lake. In summary, there is always a minor ebb and flow to the number of trout each body of water receives on an annual basis, based on the actual number of trout that are produced each year, the number of streams that need to have an adjustment in numbers made based on biological surveys and the number of lakes entering or leaving the program as a result of repairs.
The reality is that the average angler is not going to notice such a small difference in the stocking rates in their local streams and lakes.”
Talk of changing some waters to wild trout waters, and thus no longer stocking them, has generated plenty of comments both for and against. What are you hearing?
“We are hearing from anglers on both sides of this issue. Anglers who are speaking out in favor of continued stocking tend to argue that stocking on wild or native populations has not harmed the wild trout population, that people will no longer fish in these waters if you no longer stock these waters and that will ultimately impact license sales. They also contend that the discontinuation of stocking will impact the local economy, and that they have lifelong memories fishing these waters with their fathers and grandfathers, and they want to be able to take their children and grandchildren fishing in the same waters.
Those speaking out in favor of discontinuing stocking tend to argue that stocking puts unnecessary pressure on wild trout populations and by not stocking, the wild trout populations will increase. They also say that wild trout populations can support angling on their own and they say that the hatchery trout would be better used in other waters where trout do not survive year-round. This would increase angling opportunities for trout, and that once the wild trout population increases as a result of no longer being impacted by the extra pressure brought on by the hatchery trout, the local economy will see the benefit from the increased use of anglers wanting to pursue wild trout over hatchery trout. So, as you can see, there are two sides to the issue and we are trying to strike a balance between the two sides of the argument. We will be taking a proposal to the Board of Commissioners at our spring meeting to address this issue, especially on urban waters that support both wild trout and have been historically important stocked trout waters.”
Do you feel a water managed for wild trout can maintain angler interest like it did when it was stocked?
“Absolutely. The difference is that the use is spread out over a longer period of time, so you don’t see the kinds of peak activity that you typically see on a stocked trout water right after stocking. We need to recognize that we have anglers that prefer just stocked trout, ones that only fish for wild or native trout and those like me who fish for both. This issue continues to polarize anglers and it shouldn’t, because certain waters are suitable for stocking, and others can support self-sustaining populations of wild and native fish. Our anglers should be happy that our state has a common wealth that allows us to be able to enjoy both. If we take a water off the stocking list, we try to find a suitable water close by to add to the stocking list.”
Speaking of stocking, what are some of the challenges the agency faced this preseason in regard to weather? How did this year compare to past years?
“Every year, there are challenges to face, whether it’s flooding creeks or heavy snows and ice. This year, our main challenge was the long, cold winter conditions. Some of our early stockings were postponed due to access problems and safety for the public during stocking. There was also a substantial amount of ice, not only on lakes but also on many streams. Hatchery staff are able to work through this by chopping or sawing holes in the ice to stock the fish, but this makes the whole process more difficult and labor intensive. This has been one of the more difficult years but we would rather take the time to cut a hole in the ice and stock trout instead of cancelling a stocking due to flooded stream conditions.”
The agency has made moves to stock some streams closer to opening day to lessen the impact of trout movement. Could we see more of this in the future?
“Yes. We have identified that in about 10 percent of our stocked water,s stocked trout have a tendency to leave the stocked stream section in some years. Our biologists have studied — and continue to try to understand — the cause of these movements but so far have failed to identify the reasons. In an effort to improve angler success in waters where trout movement has been identified as a concern, we have moved the preseason trout stocking closer to opening day. In some cases, we have adjusted the species composition used for stocking on some waters. This approach has proven successful. This is our preferred approach when we identify a stream with movement concerns. However, with limited stocking trucks and the complexity of combining a number of waters on each stocking vehicle to minimize stocking costs, we are limited in our ability to take this approach with every water where movement is a concern. We will however, continue use this adaptive management approach whenever it is appropriate.
How are you going to spend the first day of trout season?
“I commonly meet up with family and friends, and fish near my home in Clinton County on Big and Little Fishing Creeks, Bald Eagle Creek and Penns Creek. Many years, I also travel to my camp in Forest County and fish for stocked trout in Tionesta Creek or native brookies in small headwater streams. However, this year I will be accompanying staff on a variety of waters in northeast Pennsylvania and thanking anglers for buying a fishing license as part of the Angler Thank You Campaign on April 12 across the state. Visit www.AnglerBoaterThankYou.com for a list of waters where PFBC staff will be and for participating businesses and offers.