How does the Commission do it? Is it a miracle, or just plain hard work? Actually, it's accomplished with the help of one of the strongest, and at the same time often unheralded, labor forces in the world: Volunteers.
For many organizations, volunteers are a vital source of help, creativity, and new ideas. The Fish and Boat Commission is no exception, and even though it doesn't depend whole-heartedly on volunteers, it does receive a tremendous amount of support in its programs from the likes of sportsmen's groups, watershed associations, service organizations, and interns.
Volunteers from a conservation organization float-stock Opossum Lake, Cumberland County. photo-Art Michaels
Of the many groups the Commission works with across the Commonwealth, the majority are undoubtedly sportsmen's groups. From Trout Unlimited chapters to dedicated members of local rod and gun clubs, these men and women get involved in everything from habitat improvement on local streams to raising fish in cooperative nurseries and raising funds for creel surveys and other important studies. One of the most obvious ways they work with the Commission is in helping stock the state's many lakes and streams with trout and other fish each year, which is no small task.
The stocking program in Pennsylvania is unique. It's unlike any other you'll find in the United States, because the Commission, in essence, distributes fish throughout the Commonwealth by the bucketful and netful by netful. California and Colorado also have large adult-trout stocking programs, but with a majority of those stockings they can load 20,000 fish into a truck, go to a river and "pull the shoot." The Commission's program involves transporting 4,000 fish per truckload to a given stream, where a driver often makes dozens of stops and volunteers unload 50, 100, or 200 fish at a time before moving on.
Inseason trout stocking, Opossum Lake, Cumberland County. photo-Art Michaels
The Commission stocks roughly 5.2 million adult trout in about 780 streams and 111 lakes, or about 5,000 miles of streams and a little over 6,000 lake acres.
If it weren't for the organized sportsmen's groups assisting in these stockings, the Commission would never be able to stock in this manner. It's common to have 20 or 30 people assist in stocking one stream.
Volunteers from a high school conservation club stock Powell Creek, Dauphin County. photo-Art Michaels
Even though trout are probably the most obvious example of how sportsmen work with the Commission to maintain and enhance recreational fisheries and opportunities, many groups are actively involved in raising and stocking other species as well. Take the efforts of the 300-member Raystown Striper Club and several other sportsmen's groups in Huntington County, for example.
At its cooperative nursery in Entriken, the striper club raises young stripers for stocking in Raystown Lake. Sometimes these fish come from the Commission, but other times the club purchases them itself. The fish that go into the nursery are about 1 1/2 inches and they are raised there until they reach approximately four inches. Then they are stocked.
In addition to raising fish, the group is also part of a coalition involved in stocking stripers in the lake. The Raystown Striper Club, as well as the Keystone Striper Club, Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, District IV of the Pennsylvania B.A.S.S. Federation, and the Newton-Wayne Sportsmen work together. There's a sequence of clubs to be called&SHY;the five groups basically take turns stocking.
Cooperative efforts like those of the Raystown clubs benefit the Commission by freeing up officers and employees to do other vital tasks. The volunteer efforts also provide help and facilities to grow fish. These joint efforts also foster good relationships among the various groups involved.
Sportsmen themselves benefit in several ways from working with the Commission. For example, a group may obtain equipment and/or expert advice that it otherwise may have had difficulty affording or obtaining. Or, looking at the long term, a particular club or TU chapter may have adopted a vital Class A trout stream, one that's really important to them, in an area not known for wild trout. Of course, there's an educational aspect to these partnerships. Sportsmen learn not only how to care for and improve their resources, but they also deepen their understanding of how people's actions affect the state's lakes, streams, and aquatic resources.
Developing a strong partnership often goes a long way toward determining the success of a program. For example, the groups at Raystown are extremely dedicated, which is important because they occasionally have to be available at other than 9-to-5 hours. Sometimes the fish come long distances and arrive at odd hours, and the volunteers guarantee that someone will be there to meet the driver of the fish truck.
Another area where organizations actively work with the Commission is in habitat improvement. Many times, however, these all-encompassing efforts carry over into other projects, such as improving angling and boating access or even raising funds for research that will ultimately benefit anglers and our aquatic resources.
In Carbon County, the Carbon County Sportsmen's Association (CCSA), an organization uniting 18 Carbon County sportsmen's groups, has adopted Mauch Chunk Lake in the Commission's Adopt-a-Lake program. Over a five-year period, the group, along with the Tri-County Hawg Hunters, the Commission, Pennsylvania Conservation Corps, and others, built and placed 230 porcupine cribs and two experimental bass structures in the lake as part of the project designed by the Fish and Boat Commission. Then, about three years ago, it learned there was some trouble at the lake because anglers were using the boat dock for fishing, and boaters weren't able to access the dock readily.
After long discussions, to remedy the situation, CCSA decided to commit to a project to build a fishing pier and try to raise the money for a grant.
The CCSA fish pier committee met with Carbon County Parks Director Dennis DeMara and Commission officials to gather ideas on different types of piers. The group first looked at a concrete structure, but at $35,000 it was simply too costly. DeMara then contacted the CCSA and told it that the Commission suggested looking into a newer kind of fishing pier, a permanent dock made of polyethylene.
After traveling to the Susquehanna River in Harrisburg to look at a polyethylene pier that had been constructed there, the CCSA decided that this kind of pier would be a good choice for the lake. It then designed the size and shape of the pier, and provided the project's technical specifications and materials list. After two years of fund-raising, the association also donated $7,000 of the $24,000 necessary to purchase the construction materials. DeMara applied for a matching grant, and the Carbon County Commissioners and a local corporation also helped fund the pier, which was dedicated in the fall of 1997. About the only thing the group didn't do was put the new pier together; that was done by the Conservation Corps.
Even though the CCSA's project may be somewhat unique, it is undoubtedly one of many undertaken in the Keystone State each year by dedicated and conservation-minded sportsmen. Across the Commonwealth, men and women pitch in to help with various projects, both large and small, but they all show one thing: How well sportsmen and the Commission work together, especially when you have a group of dedicated sportsmen working for something they believe in.
In select situations, it's the hard work and dedication of the sportsmen that persuade the Commission to get involved in a project. For example, back in 1981, members of the North-ampton-based Tri-Boro Sportsmen and the Lehigh River Preservation, Protective and Improvement Foundation, under the guidance of now retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Delaware River Fisheries Coordinator Joseph Miller, began placing shad eggs in boxes at several places in the Lehigh River. At that time, no shad had migrated into the Lehigh since the 19th century when a dam was constructed at the confluence of the Lehigh and Delaware rivers, and the fish passages on the Lehigh were over a decade away.
But the group had insight and determination. The group even built a special circular tank to move adult shad from the Delaware to the club's boat launch. Initially, the Commission was involved only to a limited degree, with biologists helping obtain the eggs from adult fish at Smithfield Beach on the Delaware River. Then, at a special meeting at a local restaurant, the foundation was reportedly laid for the Commission to step in to take over the project.
Tri-Boro Sportsmen President Roger Bodnar and Richard Hanzarik, who is in charge of the Northampton Boro Municipal Authority water plant, presented years of data the water authority had collected about the quality of the river water. The biologists were impressed, and they told them that the information they had just provided would have taken five or six years of their own research to acquire.
The Fish & Boat Commission took over the operation in the mid-1980s and it's been doing it ever since. The Commission has handled the stocking effort, from spawning shad at Smithfield Beach to releasing hundreds of thousands of fry in the river a few weeks later.
Had it not been for the push of the local sportsmen in the very beginning, things may have been different on the Lehigh, at least as far as shad restoration was concerned.
Although sportsmen's groups are quite active, they certainly aren't the only ones who deserve credit for working with the Commission to improve the state's aquatic resources and fisheries. Watershed groups, interns, and many others also play important roles in everything from monitoring the health of local streams to cleaning up litter along our waterways.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has a formal program in which it recruits groups for volunteer watershed monitoring. The Commission has programs in which it works with these kinds of watershed groups, and with other state agencies, not only for monitoring, but also for restoration work. The Coldwater Heritage Partnership Program is one example of such a program. It is jointly administered by the Commission, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and PA Trout.
Pennsylvania has at least 150 watershed associations and at least 70 volunteer monitoring groups comprising more than 10,000 individuals.
As with the sportsmen's groups, the efforts of the watershed associations are widespread. One group, the Kettle Creek Watershed Association, was recently formed to address problems on Kettle Creek (in Clinton/Potter County), and it is involved in many projects, including stream and temperature monitoring and a major effort with the DEP for the abatement of acid mine drainage. The group has worked with the Commission because it is a landowner on the stream. In addition, some of the Commission's Environmental Services staff people are involved in an advisory capacity.
Monitoring-group efforts contribute to everything from helping protect important watersheds in rapidly developing areas to playing a role in how certain fisheries are managed. Their work is beneficial not only to the Fish & Boat Commission and other state and environmental organizations, but also to the local community and its resources.
Even on an individual basis, many people are having an effect on the work the Fish and Boat Commission accomplishes. Each year, dozens of student interns are gaining valuable training and work experience while earning credit toward graduation. In exchange, they are providing a source of additional work and ideas for the Commission. Interns are a big help, whether they are picking up aquatic invertebrate samples from pollution surveys or assisting in the actual collection of information for a field survey. The Commission's informal partnerships with Pennsylvania colleges and universities supply a steady stream of interns in many disciplines.
All these groups and individuals are working together with the Commission toward a common goal&SHY;protecting and improving our state's streams, lakes, and fisheries. The important thing to remember, though, is that those who really benefit from these efforts are you and I. The many recreational anglers and boaters who simply enjoy their sports and never give much thought to how things get done, or the generations to come who will have quality wild trout streams or excellent smallmouth bass fishing, owe a thank-you to these dedicated men and women.
The Commission's partnerships with boating groups are as diverse as its partnerships with other sportsmen's groups.
The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, an all-volunteer group, assists thousands of boaters in Pennsylvania. Auxiliary members perform hundreds of official patrols during the boating season while under orders from the Coast Guard. During these operations, privately owned vessels operated by trained Auxiliary crews perform all kinds of services to boaters. They patrol during regattas and special events, check aids to navigation to make certain they are properly placed, provide details on Pennsylvania's boating laws, and offer boaters weather information.
Auxiliarists conduct courtesy marine examinations. These free boating safety equipment checks are performed at public docks and other locations by trained teams of Auxiliary examiners. Boats are checked by request of their owners to ensure that all state and federally mandated safety equipment is on board and in legal operating condition.
Auxiliarists also teach approved boating safety classes in powerboating and sailing. Courses vary from eight to 26 hours. Last year, nearly 3,000 Pennsylvania students were certified by Auxiliary instructors. Members also volunteer as Commission instructors to teach the Commission's Basic Boating Course.
The U.S. Power Squadrons, another volunteer boating group, teaches approved boating safety courses to the public and to their members. The Power Squadrons even offer a video-driven correspondence course and another course on personal watercraft. Last year, nearly 800 Pennsylvania boaters successfully completed Power Squadrons courses and were certified.
The Pennsylvania Marine Trades Association and the Tri-River Marine Trades Association are two Pennsylvania groups of boat dealers. Their individual member dealers provide space for boating safety classes.
The Commission also consults boating organizations on regulations and policies. These groups include the Delaware River Yachtsmen's League and the Chesapeake Bay Yacht Club Association.
The Erie Safe Boating Council's member groups promote safe boating on Lake Erie in partnership with the Commission. The Pittsburgh Safe Boating Council's member groups promote water safety and safe boating in the Three Rivers area.
PDF file of this article
November/December 1998 PA Angler & Boater
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Web Privacy and Security Policies