Commission Update: Three New Major Regulations

For Pennsylvania anglers and boaters, the year 2000 brings with it more than just a change of dates. Three new major regulations go into place this year, including a change to the creel limit for trout, sweeping changes to the bass season structure, and a new safety education requirement for the operators of specialty boats known as personal watercraft.

Trout creel limit

The regular-season daily creel limit for trout is now five. The new limit replaces the previous daily limit of eight, which had been in place since 1952. The regulation change applies to inland waters and only during the regular season--the first Saturday after April 11 through midnight Labor Day. The daily limit will remain at three during the extended season, which runs from midnight Labor Day through the end of February on most stocked trout waters. The limit change also does not apply to waters managed under special regulations, the Conowingo Reservoir, the Delaware River, or Lake Erie and its tributaries.

There was strong public support for the new creel limit, with some 60 percent advocating a reduction from the previous limit. That public support was a crucial deciding factor for Commissioners, because the measure is based on social and policy perceptions instead of a distinct fisheries management need. The new limit will not result in dramatic effects either on stocked or wild trout populations. Nor will a reduction guarantee that the catch rate is spread among more anglers; on-the-stream creel surveys in Pennsylvania have shown that 90 percent of anglers already creel five or fewer trout. However, implementation of the reduced limit does reflect the modern emphasis on fishing primarily for recreational purposes, instead of fishing solely for consumption.

Bass regulations

Thanks to new rules, the state's anglers now have the opportunity to fish for bass year-round. Starting this spring, anglers will be allowed to fish for bass on a catch-and-immediate-release basis. Tournaments will be prohibited at that time. Anglers can then harvest some bass in the summer, much as they may under the traditional "open season" regulations. But harvest will be limited through the fall and winter. Tournaments will be allowed during both the traditional summer season and fall and winter.

In addition, the new structure will regulate the bass fisheries in rivers and streams--which contain mostly smallmouth bass--differently from the lakes and ponds that are the preferred domain of largemouth bass. By regulating lakes and streams differently, fisheries managers can address the difference in fish harvest during the winter, when ice fishing is popular.

The intent is to maximize fishing opportunities by allowing angling throughout the entire year, while affording bass populations adequate protection from increased fishing pressure. Reducing harvest in the fall would give bass increased protection during a traditionally vulnerable period, thus offsetting any incidental losses that might result from catch-and-immediate-release fishing during the spring spawning period. To mitigate any losses even more, a springtime prohibition on anglers repeatedly casting into a clearly visible bass spawning nest, or redd, in an effort to catch or take bass has also been established.

Personal watercraftPersonal watercraft

A major regulation comes into effect during 2000 for the operators of personal watercraft (PWC). PWC are specialized boats often better known by brand names such as Jet SkiŽ, SeaDooŽ and Wave RunnerŽ. Beginning this year, PWC operators must carry a Boating Safety Education Certificate with them on the water.  The Commission issues the certificates to individuals who successfully complete an approved boating safety course or examination.

A list of courses and examinations meeting this requirement is available on the Commission's web site at or by calling 1-888-PAFISH-1 (1-888-723-4741).

Even though PWC currently make up less than 7 percent of the nearly 350,000 boats registered in Pennsylvania, they are involved in a disproportionate number of boating accidents.  In 1998, 36 percent of all reported boating accidents involved at least one PWC, and 56 percent of all boating collisions involved at least one PWC.  Commission analysis shows that these accidents are usually caused by operators not keeping a proper lookout, operating the boat in a reckless manner or disobeying basic safety regulations. An educated boater is often a safer boater, and the Commission believes the certification requirement will help address both safety concerns and complaints often voiced by others who recreate on the water.--Dan Tredinnick.

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January/February 2000 Angler & Boater

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