Just one year after they were hiked for the first time in 17 years, Pennsylvania fishing license fees are headed for another increase in 2024.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Board of Commissioners on March 1 gave preliminary approval to a measure to hike the state’s fishing license fees.
Under the proposal, the cost of a resident annual fishing license, which must be carried by anglers ages 16 to 64, would rise from $23.50 to $26 beginning in 2024. Not included in those figures, however, are the $1 issuing agent fee and the 97 cents transaction fee charged with the sale of every license.
The actual cost to buy a resident annual fishing license is currently $25.47. Assuming the additional fees don’t change, the actual cost of that same license next year would be $27.97.
The entire fee-hike proposal is estimated to generate an additional $2.9 million annually for the Fish and Boat Commission.
“Through these modest fee adjustments, we are keeping pace with the rising costs associated with maintaining vital infrastructure, services, and programs that anglers and boaters deserve and have come to expect,” said Robert B.J. Small, president of the Fish and Boat Commission’s board of commissioners.
“Our goal is to keep the prices of fishing licenses and permits as low as possible, while still being able to upgrade and invest in the equipment, staff, programs, and facilities, such as our fish hatcheries and hundreds of public access areas, that deliver quality recreation throughout the Commonwealth.
“Adjusting fees to match our business needs, when necessary, will ensure that Pennsylvania remains a destination for fishing and boating for a very long time.”
Besides the resident annual license increase, the Fish and Boat Commission’s proposal also would hike the following fees:
— Nonresident annual license would rise from $55 to $59
— Senior resident — age 65 and over — annual license would rise from $11.25 to $12.50
— Senior resident lifetime license would rise from $75 to $85
— Trout permit would rise from $10.50 to $13
— Trout/Lake Erie permit would rise from $16.50 to $19
— One-day, three-day and seven-day tourist licenses all would increase by $2.50
— One-day resident license would rise from $11.25 to $12.50
Fishing in Pennsylvania has been popular the past couple of years.
In 2020, Pennsylvania sold the most fishing licenses — 934,239 — since 2001. The 2020 sales increased 20% over 2019.
Sales slipped a bit in 2021 — the last year for which the Fish and Boat Commission has figures — to 865,973. That’s the second-most licenses sold since 2001, trailing only 2020.
For 2023, the Fish and Boat Commission hiked fishing license fees for the first time in 17 years. The resident annual license had been $21 all those years, before rising to $23.50 this year.
Among the other notable fee increases anglers saw this year were a $2.50 jump in the trout stamp and a hefty $25 increase in the senior resident lifetime license.
It will be interesting to see how those increases affect license sales this year. Equally interesting will be to see how license sales fare after yet another hike next year.
Generally, fishing has been in decline in Pennsylvania since a record 1.16 million licenses were sold in 1990.
That year, a record 1.02 Pennsylvania residents bought fishing licenses — the only time in history that Pennsylvania has licensed more than 1 million resident anglers.
By comparison, 708,203 Pennsylvania residents bought fishing licenses in 2021, even though the overall population in the state had grown by more than 1 million, from 11.9 million in 1990 to 12.96 million in 2021.
Pennsylvania already charges its residents the most for fishing licenses among surrounding states. The hikes proposed for 2024 would widen that gap.
In New Jersey, the cost is $22.50 for a freshwater license, plus $10.50 for a trout stamp.
In Maryland, residents pay $20.50 for a freshwater fishing license, plus $5 for a trout stamp.
New York residents pay $25 for a fishing license, and there is no trout stamp. It’s the same for Ohio.
Delaware residents pay $11 for a fishing license, plus $5.20 for a trout stamp.
We all know the cost of everything has spiked the past two years, and state agencies, such as the Fish and Boat Commission, are not immune to those spikes.
Operational expenses for the Fish and Boat Commission this year are expected to be about $43 million, plus another $8.75 million in planned infrastructure improvements.
Last year, the commission announced it has $150 million in infrastructure needs, including $75 million just for improvements and repairs to its hatcheries.
With the 2023 license increases, the agency expects to take in about $41 million. The difference between revenue and expenses will be made up from the Fish and Boat Commission’s $23 million reserve.
The more the agency eats into its reserve fund to cover operational expenses, the less it has for the infrastructure upgrades.
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Unlike the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the Fish and Boat Commission has authority over the fees it charges. The Game Commission must get Legislative approval for any fee hikes.
Following the March 1 vote, which gave preliminary approval to the fishing license fee increases, the proposal now moves to a public comment period and a review by the state Attorney General’s Office.
A second vote on the increases must be taken by the board of commissioners before they can be implemented. But the plan is for all that to happen so the license fees can be increased in time for the 2024 fishing season, which begins Jan. 1, 2024.
Commissioners are aware the 2024 increase, if approved, would mark back-to-back years of license hikes.
Their hope is that the public will find small, incremental increases more palatable than bigger hikes spaced farther apart, which is how increases were implemented in the past.
Prior to 2023, fishing license fees were last increased in 2005 and 1996.
What do you think about these increases and the cost of fishing licenses in Pennsylvania in general?
Let us know by sending an email to P.J. Reilly.
P.J. Reilly is an LNP | LancasterOnline outdoors writer. Email him at email@example.com.
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