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Pennsylvania State Archives


The Fish and Boat Commission has its origins in fish protection legislation of 1866 that created a Commissioner of Fisheries empowered to force dam builders on the Susquehanna to pay for passageways through which anadromous fish, especially shad, could continue their natural annual upstream spawning journey. "Fisheries" had already been defined by Pennsylvania courts as the locations in bodies of water where fishing had traditionally taken place. Pennsylvania's statutory protection of fish had begun in 1813, with an act for protection on part of Conestoga Creek. A series of laws applicable to various localities was consolidated in 1866, annual fishing periods were established, and the capturing of fish in sluices was outlawed.

In 1873, the single Commissioner was reinforced by a Board of Commissioners. In 1883 a much more effective fishwalk, enabling shad to pass above obstructions, was put into use. A system of state hatcheries began which replenished depleted species. In 1903, the Board of Commissioners became a department-level state agency. In 1905, the legislature created a board with the short title Fish Commission (as distinct from the Board of Fisheries Commissioners), for the purpose of cooperative action with the neighboring states, and this was perpetuated until about 1910. In the short-lived Administrative Code of 1923, the Fisheries Commission was turned into an independent commission, and renamed the Fish Commission.

The term "fish" replacing "fisheries" recognized that authority was no longer limited just to fishing spots but applied wherever the fish ran. The Administrative Code of 1929 continued the use of "Fish," but relegated the unit to "Board of Fish Commissioners", although informally "Fish Commission" sometimes still appeared. In 1925, a Fish Fund was established, and the Commission was also involved with a newly created Clean Water Board. In 1949, the Board was by statute elevated to independent commission status and officially renamed the Fish Commission. Its head, still bearing the 1866 title of Commissioner of Fisheries, was made executive director of the agency. Now its main revenue sources were license fees from fishermen and motor boat operators.

In 1913, the state first regulated motor boats, but only by requiring mufflers. In 1931, licensing of motor boats was imposed and the Fish Commissioners were primarily responsible for enforcement; fish wardens shared the work with State Police and forest and game wardens. In 1933, the Department of Revenue was charged with the administration of motor boat licenses, which continued as the arrangement until 1949. In 1963, the standards for appointments to the Fish Commission were altered to require that one commissioner be knowledgeable in boating, and a regulatory statute was passed conforming to the Federal Boating Act. By 1965 the Fish Commission had a Division of Watercraft Safety. In 1991 the agency name was changed to Fish and Boat Commission; powers now extended to all pleasure boats.

Board of Commissioners

Executive Director Ralph W. Abele 1972-1987

Executive Director

Boundary Waters Issues

Clean Water Act Revisions

Department of Environmental Resources

Environmental Quality Board

Fisheries Utilization Through User/Resource Evaluation (FUTURE)


Hydroelectric Dams

Nuclear Power

Susquehanna River Restoration

Waterway Acquisitions

Waterway Water Quality

Bureau of Boating

Bureau of Education and Information

Last processing update: 7/24/2013, acc. #6410 (gje)

PA State Archives Hours, Directions, & Fees Research Topics Finding Aids for Collections Land Records