Chris Oliver is Assistant Administrator at NOAA Fisheries, the big dog in federal fisheries management, while Mike Pentony, an agency holdover from the Obama administration, is top dog in NOAA’s Greater Atlantic Region office as Regional Administrator. Pennsylvania readers who fish the salt should remember those names; from my perspective, these two federally appointed bureaucrats just treated you and me as a beagle might a fire hydrant.
Earlier this year, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf submitted three names to NOAA Fisheries and the Commerce Department for consideration to the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC) to replace G. Warren Elliott. Never heard of Mr. Elliott? For the past 9 years he’s been Pennsylvania’s sole representative at MAFMC, the council that devises sea bass and summer flounder regulations. The Franklin County resident has also served as Pennsylvania’s Citizen Representative to the Chesapeake Bay Commission and on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, but his lackluster third and final term at MAFMC ends with a whimper this year.
Included in Governor Wolf’s list of candidates – in no apparent order of preference – was John Mahn, Jr., a freshwater angler from outside of Pittsburgh; Dr. Michelle Duval, a 10-year staffer at Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) who moved to Pennsylvania from the Carolinas less than 2 years ago; and Capt. Harvey Yenkinson, a lifelong PA resident who runs charters out of Cape May and holds science/veterinary degrees from the University of Maryland and University of Pennsylvania (Dr. Yenkinson graduated magna cum laude from the VMD/PhD program at PENN).
Now, if you were one of these mutts in charge of making decisions on behalf of Pennsylvania’s coastal fishing interests, who would you choose? Before you answer, consider that Capt. Harv has been an active fisheries management participant as a private citizen for years, serving on the council’s fluke, sea bass, and scup advisory panel. He holds a Coast Guard Master Captains License and is chairman emeritus of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Recreational Fishing Alliance, not to mention that his byline has frequently appeared here at The Fisherman.
You see where this is going, right? On June 18, I wrote a letter of support (as did many others) to the Commerce Department praising Yenkinson as “a staunch advocate for fish, fishermen and the fishing industry,” calling him the ideal candidate for Pennsylvania’s saltwater fishermen. “It’s been a long time since these passionate, saltwater anglers have had such a qualified and approachable candidate considered for MAFMC appointment,” I noted, describing Capt. Harv as one of the strongest council candidates I’ve seen in nearly 20 years.
So much for being cordial; more like naïve! On June 22, the Commerce Department announced that Dr. Duvall was selected to represent Pennsylvania at the MAFMC. Strange? You bet it is! Given that Pennsylvania gets just one seat on the MAFMC, the fact that Mr. Oliver and Mr. Pentony selected someone who appears to be a carpet-bagging EDF ideologue with a history of sowing seeds of bureaucratic discontent among South Atlantic fishermen, over a lifelong Pennsy angler with significant marine fisheries and science background and strong personal relationships with Mid-Atlantic fishermen, shows how little the swamp draining efforts have affected NOAA Fisheries.
I’m told that there was very little community support for Ms. Duvall, but it didn’t matter; swamp dwellers, like wild dogs, run in packs. So while NOAA Fisheries is running a national PR campaign this summer boasting of “expanded agency planning, focus, and accountability around recreational fisheries,” it’s really just business as usual in the swamp, with zero accountability and a complete lack of recreational focus. Which leaves anglers stuck somewhere between the dog and the fireplug.
Coincidentally, NOAA officials are expected to slither back into Philly from August 10-13 for the next meeting of the MAFMC at The Notary Hotel, 21 N. Juniper Street. Check the meeting status at MAFMC.org.