ELLSWORTH — Who says miracles don’t happen?
In what must be a first in modern history, virtually every commercial fishing organization in Maine joined together to urge Governor-elect Janet Mills to keep Patrick Keliher on the job as commissioner of Marine Resources after she takes office in January.
First reported in the Maine Lobstermen’s Association’s Landings, shortly after the election, the MLA, Downeast Lobstermen’s Association, Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, Maine Aquaculture Association, Alewife Harvesters of Maine, Maine Elver Fishermen Association and the Independent Maine Marine Worm Harvesters Association signed a letter to Mills voicing the organizations’ unanimous support for the current DMR commissioner.
“Commissioner Keliher has the relationships, knowledge of the industry landscape and major issues to effectively lead Maine’s seafood sector into the future,” the fisheries groups told the governor-elect.
As of late this week, DMR spokesman Jeff Nichols said Keliher had “no comment at this time” regarding the industry’s endorsement.
Governor Paul LePage appointed Keliher to his job in January 2012, some six months after the departure of the Governor’s initial appointee, Norman Olsen, in July 2011.
Over the past seven-plus years, Keliher has overseen the implementation of a number of tough conservation and enforcement programs in several fisheries including the 10-year rotational management plan for scallops, the introduction of magnetic swipe cards to track landings in the elver fishery and federally mandated gear changes by lobstermen for the protection of endangered whales. He also pushed the Legislature for stronger powers to discipline fishermen who violate Maine’s fisheries laws and DMR rules.
His experience with fisheries regulatory groups was a significant factor in the groups’ recommendation.
“Many of the most impactful decisions that affect the Maine commercial fishing industry are made by regulatory agencies outside of Maine through the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), New England Fisheries Management Council (NEFMC) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS),” the writers told Mills.
Keliher “has established effective relationships in these management arenas and has a strong working knowledge of the regulatory structures and issues that we are facing.”
Now the vice chairman of ASMFC, he will head the commission when it looks at issues crucial to Maine fishermen such as possible trap reductions and mandatory harvester reporting in the lobster fishery.
“There are few people who understand how to navigate this complex political arena and possess the leadership skills to be effective,” the writers said. “Losing Commissioner Keliher would prove extremely detrimental to Maine’s commercial fishing industry.”