Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Op-Ed: Senate Fish & Boat Commission Hearing Raises More Questions

By: Sen. Pat Stefano, Majority Chair, Senate Game & Fisheries Committee

Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway recently appeared before the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee, which I chair, to provide his annual report to the Committee.
This is my fourth year serving on the Committee and this normally routine meeting was unlike any I have seen.
Director Arway appeared before the Committee amidst a swirl of controversy over his management of the Fish and Boat Commission and its resources.
The Senate has twice passed bills that would allow the Fish and Boat Commission and the Game Commission have more control over their fees with continued oversight by the legislature.
The House had significant concerns with this approach and so negotiations to do a 3 year license increase schedule for both commissions were begun and nearing completion in September of 2017.
That’s when Director Arway’s actions derailed the progress that was being made.
In September of 2017, Arway skirted the normal committee process of the Fish and Boat Commission and without public notice had the commissioners enact a $2 million package of cuts to Fish and Boat services.
These cuts included closing two hatcheries and reducing the amount of stocked fish throughout the state.
I personally cautioned Arway, and he was warned by some of the Fish and Boat Commissioners that day, that unilateral action could derail plans for license increases. He chose to ignore those warnings and then took his actions even a step further.
It was at that point that Arway crossed a line that he cannot uncross.
Arway released a map showing where the reductions in stocked fish would take place and it became abundantly clear that he had targeted unsupportive members of the legislature for cuts. He further confirmed this in a meeting in my office with all four chairmen of the House & Senate Game and Fisheries Committees and in media interviews.
This is an outrageous action that at the least is improper and may well be an illegal use of his power. It is highly inappropriate and unethical to use state resources to try and influence a legislative vote.
Once Arway showed that he is willing to use state resources for political retribution he lost my confidence in his ability to lead this agency.
For the sake of the future of the Fish and Boat Commission, he should step aside and allow new leadership to repair the damage that he has done.
Further doubt has been raised in regards to the fiscal condition of the Fish and Boat Commission.
An economic analysis prepared for the FOP Lodge 114, which represents law enforcement within Fish and Boat and is currently in contract negotiations with the commission, raises serious doubt about the claims Arway has used to make his case.
Despite the Fish and Boat having this report for about a month, Arway declined to answer questions about this report in our hearing and indicated that they would answer them in the near future.
No matter their answers there are now serious doubts as to which numbers are correct and for that reason I am asking Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to undertake a thorough audit of the commission to get to the bottom of this.
When politics are injected into our wildlife management practices, it endangers one of Pennsylvania’s greatest treasures: It’s wildlife.
Unfortunately director Arway did just that when he chose to target specific legislators for their lack of support for his initiatives. This was an irrevocable action that should cause great concern to anyone who cares for our great outdoors.  
I continue to believe that a license increase is necessary but it is clear that given the current climate the only way for that to happen is for Arway to step aside or be removed.
Sen. Pat Stefano (R-Fayette) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Game and Fisheries Committee.  He can be contacted by calling 717-787-7175 or send email to: pstefano@pasen.gov.
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