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Pa.'s fascinating, surprisingly controversial trout supply

Plus, a Hottie House hits the market.

April 1, 2022
Inside this edition: Fish farms, weekend ahoy, The Hottie House, The Mushroom House, good as gold, and peculiar pizza: the sequel.

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A rural Pa. county with a small population was at one point the divorce capital of the state, "and by some standards, the world." What's the county?

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.) 
Golden rainbow trout at a hatchery in Carlisle. (Jose F. Moreno / Philadelphia Inquirer)

Every year a monumental feat of natural resource engineering takes place across Pennsylvania, unnoticed by many — well, many non-anglers, at least.

Millions of trout that have been raised in state-run hatcheries (like this one) are loaded into trucks, taken to roughly 1,000 designated waters, and turned loose en masse.

It’s a ritual in preparation for another: the start of trout season, which this year falls on Saturday and will inevitably draw throngs of rod-and-reel-toters to muddy embankments statewide. 

There are so many trout fed into streams and lakes by the state — and so few there organically, by comparison — that if you catch one it’s almost certainly been planted by the Fish and Boat Commission, spokesperson Mike Parker said. 

And that’s where things get slightly complicated and incredibly symbiotic. 

Trout like it cold, and the wild population’s natural range is already limited here. Without the state pushing tons of fish into waters each year, opportunities to catch them would be considerably narrower and demand for fishing licenses and permits — a primary, almost exclusive source of funding for the state's 14-hatchery network — would likely wane. 

This came to a head in 2018 with state lawmakers threatening to oust then-director of the Fish and Boat Commission John Arway over a proposed fishing license fee hike that he said was needed to sustain the state's hatchery program. Arway retired months later. 

The financial tension has since dissipated some: a reserve fund is being spent down and the pandemic saw a sizable increase in fishing license applications. Boating revenue is also up, Parker added.  

There is other tension, though, including a warning that hatchery-raised trout threaten to overwhelm the already stressed wild brook trout, Pennsylvania’s only native species. (Supporters of stocking hand-raised fish say doing so can help protect the natives from overfishing.)

Parker said the commission is aware of the concern and studying the issue, adding, “as an agency we’re dedicated to the conservation of wild trout, but part of our mission is also to provide recreational fishing opportunities.”  

Beyond the obvious differences, aqua-farmed trout, like those raised in hatcheries, are considered less wily and evasive than their wild cousins. (A retired fisheries biologist named Ray White compared it to “turning barnyard chickens loose in the forest.”) 

But your average recreational fisher is unlikely to care, and without Pennsylvania’s stocked trout, they’re less likely to land one at all. To a degree, the pastime — or least its accessibility — is at stake, Parker suggests, adding of the hatchery program, “Trout fishing would not look the same without it.”

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA

» Friday, April 1: Outwit a criminal mastermind on board the Strasburg Rail Road at "Escape Room on The Train." Tickets are $50 and going fast. 

» Friday, April 1: See mixed-media artist Justin Favela's Fresh Cut Fruit exhibit at Philadelphia's Paradigm Gallery through April 17. 

» Saturday, April 2: Watch The Pittsburgh Symphony's free "Concert for Peace" live or online. Donations will go to refugees from Ukraine. 

» Saturday, April 2: Pop in to a pop-up museum showcasing a Pittsburgh house with ties to prohibition bootlegging and Negro League baseball.

» Saturday, April 2: Check out The Harrisburg Flea, a curated pop-up market, as it returns to Strawberry Square.

» Sunday, April 3: Roll into Bloom Brew in Westmoreland County for sweet and savory nods to the egg roll at a Rollie Pollie Egg Roll Factory pop-up.

» Sunday, April 3: It's day two (night three) of the 31st annual Berks Jazz Fest in Reading — a 10-day, 300 performer-large event. Tickets are $59.

» Saturday, April 9: Take a free tour of the Linesville State Fish Hatchery in Linesville at an open house running from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Tell us about a Pennsylvania business or service that deserves a turn in the spotlight and we'll share your suggestion here.

This week's shoutout is from reader Anne G. and it's for the Garden Cafe of Pittsburgh's North Side. Anne says the cafe livens an already bustling corner and sits on a street notable for its ancient trolley tracks

"Besides serving excellent, locally roasted coffee and local eats — every morning this intersection hosts the neighborhood fire station, access to three other neighborhoods, and the school crossing guard ... the Garden Cafe transforms this important intersection into a destination."

Scranton's Houdini Museum, which claims to be the only building in the world devoted to the magician, via @lora_explores. Send us your pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania

» One thing worth knowing: It's been 43 years since the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the nation's worst. In 2019, WITF gave everyone an idea of what it might have been like if Twitter existed in 1979

» One deep-dive worth reading: How the Ivy League University of Pennsylvania turned on a star student, via the New Yorker.

» One story worth following: Treasure hunters who believe the FBI made off with tons of Civil War gold in Elk County are now asking whether evidence related to the search has been destroyed, via CBS News.

» One thing that stopped us mid-scroll: A $167-a-night, "WAP"-inspired Philadelphia Airbnb called The Hottie House.

» One place worth seeing: Pittsburgh Magazine has a look inside Squirrel Hill's "Mushroom House," down to the eagle-shaped newel posts. 

» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» 'Compassionate release’ rules strand sickest prisoners as costs soar

» Angry over maps, Pa. Republicans eye greater redistricting control

» Public could gain easy access to what lawmakers spend on perks

» Parents of teen shot by Pennsylvania State Police sue troopers, DA

» Election 2022: Tell Spotlight PA what coverage matters to you
Last week's edition was a palooza of offbeat (and either blasphemous or righteous, depending on your perspective) Pennsylvania pizzas.

We capped it by asking for any offensive/beloved examples that were missed. And you delivered ... like a pizzeria ... anyone? 

Readers told us about an upside down pizza that's been sold at Fenicci's in Hershey since 1947, a "polish pizza" at Cebula’s in Dupont that Marie F. says has a pan-fried and reportedly potato-infused crust (locals ask for burnt cheese), and a more recent arrival: gerrymandered pizza.
In 2009, the Endeavor News detailed Cameron County's status as the divorce capital of Pennsylvania, "and by some standards, the world."

According to the paper, the county made no-fault divorce cases exceptionally easy — and cheap — to file, drawing attorneys, conscious uncouplers, and big money from across the state.

"For many years, Cameron County filed thousands of no-fault divorces per year, something that kept the Prothonotary’s Office well-staffed and well-funded," the paper wrote. "In its heyday, no-fault divorces in Cameron County generated roughly half a million dollars a year ..." 

But that began to change with complaints that a county judge was dragging his feet on the filings due to a "moral issue," leading lawyers to take their cases to neighboring Potter County, where costs were also low. 

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret recipes!
Spotlight PA is an independent, non-partisan newsroom powered by The Philadelphia Inquirer in partnership with PennLive/The Patriot-News, TribLIVE/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and WITF Public Media.

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