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The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is charged under Commonwealth law with the protection and management of aquatic organisms and the places they live. Regulations ensure natural resources are protected and people are safe. Regulations vary but include setting seasons, establishing minimum sizes and limits, regulating equipment use, and establishing licenses and permits.

Pennsylvania law defines "fishing" as the act of angling, or to catch, take, kill or remove or the attempt to catch, take, kill or remove from any waters or other areas within or bordering the Commonwealth any fish by any means or method for any purpose at all. Under the law, fishes include aquatic macroinvertebrates. For regulatory purposes, there are three major groups:

  1. Fish (gamefish, panfish, etc.),
  2. Bait-fish (minnows, darters, sculpins, madtoms, etc.), and
  3. Fish-bait (aquatic insects and other macroinvertebrates).

Therefore, you are fishing if you collect organisms included in these categories.

Educators, water quality monitors, scientists, and those collecting aquatic organisms for any reason 16 years of age or older must have a valid fishing license. In addition, these activities must follow current Fish and Boat Commission regulations found in the PA Fishing Summary Book​.


High school and undergraduate college students are exempt from the license requirement IF their teacher/educator applies for and is issued a Fishing License Educational Exemption Permit. The teacher leading the field study group must complete and submit a permit registration form to the PFBC. There is no charge. The leader(s) of the field study group must possess a valid PA fishing license and carry the Fishing License Educational Exemption Permit. In addition, if sampling in stocked trout streams from the opening day of trout season to the first Saturday of May, the leader must also possess a valid Trout Permit. Stocked trout streams are closed to sampling from March 1 to the opening day of trout season.

Instructors and all participants must abide by seasons, sizes, creel limits and other related regulations. Consult the current Pennsylvania Summary of Fishing Regulations and Laws.

Other questions to consider before applying for this permit include:

    • Are your students 16 and older?
    • Do you use nets less than four feet square?
    • Do you keep fewer than 50 combined species per student?
    • Do you collect and possess only during the "open seasons" for those species?

If you answered "no" to any of the previous questions, then you need a Scientific Collector's Permit


If the methods of collection, normally permissible under statewide rules and regulations for fishing, and the Fishing Educational Exemption Permit are inadequate for technical and scientific studies, the Scientific Collector's Permit addresses qualified persons engaged in research, higher education, or scientific studies in which collecting specimens is necessary.

    • These permits are valid only for the locations and equipment specifically authorized on the permit.
    • Scientific collector's permit holders and their assistants must possess valid fishing licenses in addition to the collector's permit.
    • The permit holder must give 24-hour notice of any collecting activities to the appropriate regional law enforcement manager.
    • The permit holder (not an assistant) must be present on-site when any collecting takes place.

These permits may allow for collecting and possession during closed seasons and without regard to minimum sizes and daily limits. In addition, the Commission may permit you to use nets larger than four feet square and electrofishing gear.

Type I (Nonprofit and Education). We normally issue these permits to museums, universities, and other nonprofit organizations. They cover the permit holder and no more than five assistants. All assistants must have a valid Pennsylvania fishing license. A Type I permit is normally limited to a specific area (that is, a county or specific water area).

Type II (Governmental). A Type II permit is a free permit issued to state and federal employees engaged in scientific collecting as a part of their required duties. This type of permit may be statewide or regional depending on the individual application. All applicants must have a valid Pennsylvania fishing license.

Type III (Consulting). We issue a Type III permit to individuals engaged in private consulting for profit, that is, a commercial venture. A Type III permit is limited to coverage of the permit holder and five assistants. All applicants and assistants must have a valid Pennsylvania fishing license. We issue this permit to individuals deemed by the PFBC to be qualified to engage in scientific collecting. We will not issue the permit in the name of a company or corporation. Collecting under a Type III permit is limited to a specific area, or sites, as described on the permit conditions.

Scientific Collector's Permits and Forms