Fisheries Director's Blog

Welcome to the new blog from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service, which was created to offer a new forum for sharing information and perspective on fisheries management with our stakeholders.

Our Shared VisionFishing Challenge

September 23, 2014 by Tom O'Connell

On September 7, more than 1,000 recreational anglers of all ages and skill levels ventured to Sandy Point State Park in Annapolis to share stories of their triumphs (and tribulations) at the annual Maryland Fishing Challenge Finale. It was a wonderful day, as DNR fisheries staff, partners and attendees celebrated the state's outstanding fishing opportunities and shared their passion for the sport.

Having these anglers from all across the region gathered at one event, serves as an interesting reminder of the number and diversity of those who enjoy Maryland's fishery. There were anglers who had recently experienced their first fish, proud parents and mentors passing down the tradition to children, seasoned anglers who rarely come home empty handed, and lifelong watermen who enjoy the sport on their days off. With this, no two anglers are alike, so naturally we expect all sorts of outlooks and ideas when it comes to fisheries management issues.

As I mentioned in last month's blog, we should embrace the various stakeholder perspectives as a strength that helps us to see the big picture – a common desire for sustainable fishery resources. As famed US Army General George S. Patton once said, "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."

As we work together with stakeholders to ensure these resources are sustained, and better yet, improved, for future generations, there will be both opportunities and challenges that will require action. The issues are rarely simple and the solutions are often imperfect in the sacrifice they demand. I believe the only answer is to establish a compass that can serve as a guide for future decisions, which is why my first priority after becoming DNR Fisheries Service Director in 2008 was to establish a set of principles and citizen participation processes to lead decision-making.

The Foundational Principles that guide us in problem solving and decision-making are: Sustainability (fish for today and tomorrow); Accountability (responsible for your use and enjoyment of fishery resources); Enforceability (fishery rules are enforceable and there are appropriate consequences for violating them); and Cost Recovery (services needed to sustain fisheries resources are funded by fees paid by those who directly benefit).

I am extremely fortunate to have a team of dedicated staff with technical skills that are second to none; but finding the technical solution is just one piece of the complicated puzzle that we are called upon to solve. The greater challenge lies in making sure everyone's voice is heard, understood and taken into consideration.

Traditionally, public meetings were the standard approach used for sharing information and gathering input, but we now have tools that utilize our ever-evolving technology and better suit today's busy lifestyles. Public meetings still remain a useful tool, but we also use the internet, email, social media, as well as open house style meetings, to engage the largest and broadest audience possible. The best way to stay abreast of issues, and provide feedback through these avenues is to visit the Fisheries Service website or follow MDDNRFisheriesService on Facebook

We are in this together. Transparency and trust are fundamental to our ability to work together to achieve a robust and sustainable fishery. DNR has made great strides ─ and continues to look for new opportunities ─ to develop a more consistent and open decision-making process. We look forward to your continued feedback and thank you for sharing your experiences and knowledge so we can make the best, most informed decisions possible.

Next time: Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Management Proposal for Striped Bass

Tom O'ConnellA Life-long Passion for Fishing

August 11, 2014 by Tom O'Connell

My father and grandfather introduced me to fishing, hunting, camping, hiking and many other outdoor activities at an early age. If I was not in school or playing sports, I could always be found in the woods or on the water. My passion for the outdoors would eventually lead me to my career, and to my wife of 20 years, Tammy, who shares these interests.

This summer marks my 21st year with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Service. For the past six years I have had the privilege and pleasure of serving as Director, a job that I dreamed of as a child and one I never take for granted.

Maryland's fish and aquatic life are remarkable. Long before any of us were born, our forefathers recognized the need to safeguard these treasures, creating the agency and the role in which I now serve. In this role, my responsibility is to manage our diverse fishery resources for their sustainable use today… and tomorrow. 

I take this responsibility seriously: 426,000 sports anglers (16 years of age and older), 5,500 commercial fishermen, 500 charter boat and fishing guides, hundreds of dependent businesses and all those who enjoy the bounty of Maryland waters share a social, economic and cultural interest in sustaining these resources. Passing on the tradition and culture of Maryland’s diverse sport and commercial fishing opportunities drives my commitment.

Some of my family's fondest memories are those spent enjoying our fisheries. The picture of our oldest daughter proudly catching her first yellow perch that hangs in our home; the commitment and focus of our youngest daughter as she learned the art of fly-tying at the kitchen table and then caught her first panfish on one of those self-tied flies; the expression on our middle daughter's face as she watched her first hickory shad leaping and jumping as she reeled it in; our son, who after catching his first fish through the ice on Deep Creek Lake, proceeded to ask me daily to take him fishing at our neighbor's pond.

These shared moments are as vivid today as when they happened. Of course, our family also enjoys eating locally caught seafood, observing hard-working watermen as we travel around the State, and hearing about the rich history of Maryland's commercial fishing industry that our neighbor, a commercial fisherman, shares with our family.

This history, culture and excitement gives me the inspiration and motivation to excel in my job – one that I am doubly blessed to hold, as it allows me to spend my working hours with people that share my enthusiasm for managing and enjoying our fisheries.

Like most things, such passion brings hard work and tough choices. Management decisions are made even more challenging because of the number and diversity of stakeholders we serve. Yet I believe that despite often competing values and perspectives this diversity has untapped strength on which we can capitalize.

We have much in common. Like me, you have similar stories of the personal journeys that helped instill your passion for these resources. Like me, you enjoy sharing your experiences (and the tales of them) with family and friends. And like me, you want to continue to see Marylanders benefit from our exciting fishery resources.

So, it is my personal goal – and the reason we created this new blog -- to bring together our diverse stakeholders, and leverage our shared interest in and commitment to Maryland fisheries. For only together can we address the issues that threaten our ability to achieve our collective goal: ensuring current and future generations of anglers are able to enjoy the same – preferably better -- fisheries resources that we have enjoyed in our lifetimes.

Editor's Note: This new blog from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service was created to offer a new forum for sharing information and perspective on fisheries management with our stakeholders. Your feedback is encouraged.