Northern snakeheads and financial instability

News from the Upper Delaware Council

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 12/7/21

TUSTEN, NY — The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) heard a pair of presentations at its December 2 meeting.

Daryl Pierce, a fisheries biologist at the PA Fish and Boat Commission, discussed the …

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Northern snakeheads and financial instability

News from the Upper Delaware Council

Posted

TUSTEN, NY — The Upper Delaware Council (UDC) heard a pair of presentations at its December 2 meeting.

Daryl Pierce, a fisheries biologist at the PA Fish and Boat Commission, discussed the northern snakehead, an invasive species.

Pierce said that the northern snakehead had become well established in the lower Delaware River, and that there was a range expansion underway from that population upstream. He said that while only a handful had so far been caught in the Upper Delaware River, and that it would be years before the fish became prolific (if they ever did), the fish were exploring what they wanted to do in those waters, Pierce said, and seeing whether the environment there was suitable for their fishy development.

 
The northern snakehead is "able to feed on anything they [can] fit in their mouths."
The northern snakehead is "able to feed on anything they [can] fit in their mouths."
 

The species, which originally came from some regions of China and Korea, had been introduced via the live fish market, said Pierce. The fish posed a particular threat to the ecology of the Upper Delaware because they were predatory generalists, able to feed on anything they could fit in their mouths, and because they could breath air, able to survive up to four days on land as long as their gills were moist; thus they survive accidental transportation to other bodies of water.

Pierce said that anglers should try to clean and dry their gear when taking it out of the water, to avoid accidental transfer of northern snakehead between bodies of water, and that anyone catching a specimen should take it, report it to an environmental authority, and dispose of it in the garbage.

Northern snakehead sightings can be reported at https://fishandboat.com/ais-reporting.html.

Financial sustainability

The UDC also heard a presentation from consultant Michael Crane on the organization’s history and financial future.

The UDC had put out a request for proposals in June seeking a long-term fiscal sustainability plan, asking for advice on how to diversify the organization’s funding through grants and other sources and how long it could continue operating on its current level of federal funding.

Crane’s bid on the RFP had been accepted in July, and he’d spent significant time since then analyzing the UDC’s history, method of operations and finances. He appeared at the UDC’s December 2 meeting to present his findings.

There are fundamental reasons why the UDC’s current business plan is unsustainable, said Crane.

The UDC’s current sustained funding, set at $300,000, has not been indexed to inflation. The organization’s original five-person staff has shrunk to three, and would likely shrink again in the next seven to eight years, said Crane. If indexed to inflation, the UDC’s current funding total would be around $382,000, with the extra $82,000 being about the cost of an additional mid-level staff member.

More fundamentally, it is hard to pin down what type of organization the UDC is, said Crane, comparing it to nonprofits, government agencies, and interstate commissions.

A typical nonprofit offers specific deliverables, and spends a large chunk of its time on fundraising; the UDC doesn’t do either. A typical government agency was established by the government with the authorization to enforce policy and with taxpayer funding; the UDC was founded by Congress, but lacks both authority and consistent taxpayer funding. In an interstate commission, stakeholder members band together for a common goal in a partnership granting power, authority and governance; the UDC lacks both mandatory membership from its stakeholders and enforcement authority.

“The UDC can’t raise money like a nonprofit, it can’t raise money like a government agency, it can’t raise money like an interstate commission,” he said.

Most fundamentally, as Crane sees it, the UDC’s purposes and functions are misaligned. Its purposes, to ensure local control and safety from federal overreach, aligned it with local governments against organizations such as the National Park Service. Its functions, the review of local plans for conformance with the River Management Plan, align it with federal regulations against the authority of local governments.

His recommendation for a solution was to reshape the UDC into one of the organizational structures he’d described as similar to it: a government agency, an interstate commission, or a nonprofit.

UDC Secretary-Treasurer Alan Henry said that the organization would take the information and discuss it, but that messing with the UDC’s structure could create a touchy situation. “I’ve told you on the phone many times, there’s a political reality,” he said.

Shohola representative Aaron Robinson said that Crane’s analysis was a very timely report;  unless other sources of funding came in, the organization was at a financial dead end. “The concept [of the UDC] was correct, the structure was wrong. The flaw was how we were funded.”

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