Pennsylvania anglers had a run of “fishermen’s luck” over the better part of the last eight years that had absolutely nothing to do about how many fish they caught.
That luck had to do with the leadership of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission by executive director John Arway, who in November resigns the position he has held since 2010. Most memorable for this bass angler was his pledge that the “last smallmouth in the Susquehanna River will not be caught on my watch.”
Backing up that statement Arway launched an aggressive restoration project for the Susquehanna and was the driving force behind the “S.O.S.” – Save Our Susquehanna – fund-raising campaign.
All of us know there are many miles to be floated until the Susquehanna is everything we want it to be, but the attention Arway drew to its plight was a major factor in the river’s ongoing restoration. That project was met with support by anglers and non-anglers alike, but, unfortunately, some of his other concerns were met with less support by those in position to help.
For years – decades – Legislators have withheld approval of a license increase for both the PFBC and Pennsylvania Game Commission, so when Arway announced the possible closing of two trout hatcheries he stepped on the wrong toes. In this case the toes were attached to the feet of Sen. Pat Stefano, a Republican from Fayette County and chairman of the Game and Fisheries Committee.
Stefano’s response was to make threats and use intimidation tactics that would be envy of any mob boss and were right out of the playbook of Frank Nitti and Sonny Corleone. He not only continued to stonewall the PFBC, but made it clear he wanted Arway to go away.
Well, lo and behold, once Arway announced his retirement “Boss” Stefano said the legislators are prepared to move forward with a license-fee increase. Clearly, Arway fell on his sword for the good of the state’s sportsmen and the agency, but the only one with blood on their hands is Stefano, who insulted the intelligence of anyone who has ever baited a hook by saying: “The Legislature doesn’t want fisheries resources used as a bargaining chip. Anglers can know that Fish and Boat will be put back on course, and we’re taking the politics out of wildlife conservation.”
Showing class until the end, Arway refuses to be drawn into this web of deceit and leaves on the high road with his head held high. He has the satisfaction of knowing he fought the good – and right – fight, and if the Stefano Gang follows through on its promise, Arway goes out a winner.
For nearly 38 of his 57 years Arway has served the PFBC in various capacities, and he never missed the opportunity to promote fishing in Pennsylvania. He did this from his office, by making public appearances and by being on the water – often with legislators – promoting the resource.
“I’m very proud of the fact that I always worked for the sportsmen, not the legislators, even though they thought that’s what you did,” Arway said. “Looking back, my mistake was trying to work with individual legislators instead of the leadership, because no matter how good the intentions are of each individual, they still have to follow what the leadership tells them.
“Ironically, I had been planning my retirement for some time, and when you consider the average term length across the county is 3½ years for executive directors of state agencies, it’s been a pretty good run. Stepping aside now provides the board sufficient time to conduct the necessary search for qualified individuals and appoint someone before my departure.
“In my more than 38 years with the agency I have had many motivating and rewarding experiences, and working for the PFBC has been nothing less than a privilege. Never did I think, back in the fall of 1979 when I stopped by the PFBC’s Pleasant Gap office and visited with Jack Miller and Ronni Tibbott to discuss a possible semi-skilled laborer position working on fish-habitat projects, I would wake up 38 years later as the retiring executive director of an agency I always respected and admired.”
Arway said he will take with him the memory of all the people both inside and outside the agency who provided support and assistance over the years. Saying he has worked with “the best of the best,” he feels “truly blessed” to have been able to serve to protect, conserve and enhance our Commonwealth’s aquatic resources and provide first-class opportunities for Pennsylvania’s anglers and boaters.
Clearly, Arway understands his leaving will present challenges for a new director, but will also create opportunities, and he is preparing plans for his replacement that outline in detail each step that is needed to complete the tasks at hand. If asked, he will make himself available to assist his replacement in an orderly transition in any way he can.
“When commission president Tom Shetterly called and offered me the job as executive director over eight years ago, the vision I had of the position was soon replaced by the reality of the unusual blend of politics, science, state and national public policy, economics and social media and personal interactions with anglers and boaters all across the Commonwealth,” Arway said. “My only regret is that I failed to achieve a sustainable future for the agency and its programs, and the plan we created eight years ago put us on course to control our own destiny.
“We executed painful cuts across programs to be able to the pay rising expenses of government, saved sufficient revenues to be able to sustain operations until others provide funding to satisfy the public service demands of a government business. I leave the agency in good hands and am confident that the board and PFBC staff will maintain the courage and resolve to continue to do the right things for the right reasons for not only the current generation of Pennsylvania anglers and boaters, but more importantly for generations yet to come.
“My plan for the future includes the defense of agency independence, living within our means and not spending more than we earn. This simple formula will insure continued agency success far into the future.”
As for Arway’s immediate plans, he’s hoping for some fisherman’s and hunter’s luck spending time on the water and in the woods of Pennsylvania. In particular, much of that time will be near the town of Lynch in the middle of the Allegheny National Forest at a camp with a green metal roof and a campfire ring surrounded by family and friends telling stories about fishing and hunting and swapping tall tales.