Maryland Department of Natural Resources Gets New Fisheries Service Director

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Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary John R. Griffin today announced the selection of Tom O’Connell, a respected 15-year veteran of the department, to serve as director of the department’s Fisheries Service, effective immediately.

“From the time Captain John Smith first sailed into the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland’s fisheries have helped define our culture and drive our economy,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “Tom O’Connell has the vision, the conviction and the expertise to guide our efforts to ensure sustainable fishery populations remain a birthright for future generations of Marylanders.”

Over the past year Governor O’Malley has taken significant steps to support the department’s management efforts on behalf of people across Maryland who depend on our fisheries for recreation and economic opportunity  including: creation of the Fisheries Management Task Force and Oyster Advisory Commission to help guide the agency’s decision-making; a provision for $750,000 in additional fiscal year 2009 funding for fisheries management; adoption of new regulations to conserve yellow perch populations; and an ongoing collaboration with Virginia to develop strategies to better manage the states’ shared blue crab resource.

“This a critical time for fisheries management in Maryland,” said Secretary Griffin. “Tom’s personal passion for protecting our resources, coupled with his extensive scientific and management experience, makes him the ideal choice to successfully lead the Fisheries Service.”

“We have important decisions to make regarding blue crab conservation, oyster restoration strategies, and other key populations,” the Secretary continued, “while we also have the benefit of new resources provided by our recreational anglers and through Governor O’Malley’s commitment of matching funds. Together, they give us a chance to work for real progress on behalf of these resources and our stakeholders.”

O’Connell began his tenure with DNR in 1993 as a fisheries biologist working on striped bass monitoring and management.  Since then he has served the Maryland Fisheries Service as its Legislative and Policy Program Administrator, Coastal Bays Fisheries Management Plan Coordinator, Oyster Restoration Program Manager, and most recently the Assistant Director for the Estuarine and Marine Fisheries Division.

“It is with great seriousness that I accept this new responsibility of directing management of Maryland’s fisheries resources,” said O’Connell.  “Our goal will be to manage these treasured natural resources sustainably, and to increase opportunities for their enjoyment and appreciation by all Marylanders and the tens of thousands of visitors who enjoy fishing in our state’s waters.  I look forward to continuing Maryland’s tradition of science-based fisheries management and hope to expand our efforts to bring stakeholders together to ensure transparent, technically sound, and sustainable management decisions.”

O’Connell holds a Bachelor of Science from the State University of New York’s College of Environmental Science and Forestry.  Prior to his service with DNR, O’Connell worked as a biologist with Wildlife International, Ltd. in Easton, Md. and as a wildlife and fisheries technician with both the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Ecological Center.  O’Connell, who lives with his wife and four children in Goldsboro, enjoys fishing, camping and hunting.

Rich Novotny, Executive Director of the Maryland Saltwater Sportfishermen’s Association (MSSA) had this to say when he learned of the appointment: “We are very pleased that Mr. O’Connell will be heading the fisheries department of DNR.  MSSA has worked with him over the years and have found him to be very knowledgeable, and also very sincere to the entire fishing community.”

The Maryland Fisheries Service strives to manage the state’s fisheries in balance with the ecosystem for present and future generations and provide high quality, diverse, accessible fishing opportunities.  O’Connell replaces former Director Howard King, who retired in December after 38 years with the department.

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