EASTON — Former Queen Anne’s County commissioner and waterman George O’Donnell has been brought onto the Department of Natural Resources’ payroll as a seafood industry and fisheries stakeholders liaison, of sorts.
O’Donnell has been in the position since July 8, and according to Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert T. Brown, he’s already been working with the commercial industry to find solutions to their issues.
“We’ve finally got a friend up there,” Brown said.
O’Donnell’s official title at DNR is the fisheries customer relations manager.
It’s an outreach position to ensure that fisheries stakeholders’ views are communicated to state departments and policymakers for consideration.
“The administration believes that through outreach a better understanding can be reached to benefit the user groups as well as our marine resources,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell said that Gov. Larry Hogan, in his quest for the state government to provide better “customer service” to the people of Maryland, wants to make sure that any industry area of the state that feels underserved has a voice in Annapolis.
“This outreach program is to ensure that their information gets to the policy makers, so it’s all part of the process to bring about good management over at fisheries and equality,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell was formerly a commercial fisherman for about 20 years. Aside from being a Queen Anne’s County commissioner for eight years and serving as its president for a term, O’Donnell was also an orphan’s court judge in the county.
He has served on numerous commissions and committees related to the seafood industry and Chesapeake Bay — the statewide Oyster Divers Committee, Seafood Marketing Advisory Commission, the Tidal Fisheries Advisory Committee and the Local Government Advisory Committee on Chesapeake Bay Program.
He also was active in various seafood industry groups, including being on the board of directors for the Maryland Watermen’s Association and serving as the president of the Maryland Divers Association.
In addition, O’Donnell was also given the 1993 J. Millard Tawes Award for exceptional performance in protecting the Maryland marine environment, and founded both the Queen Anne’s County Watermen’s Festival and Maryland Watermen’s Monument in Kent Narrows.
O’Donnell has already met with members of the commercial fishing, sport fishing and aquaculture groups to work with them on issues they’re having, he said.
“Many of the things I’ve seen so far are very similar to a lot of the different issues over the years that have to be worked out —area issues, gear issues,” he said. (It) just requires, I think, constant communication between the groups and the department to ensure that we get the best possible policy and results for those things considered and at the same time preserve the fisheries.”
Brown, who leads the main commercial fishing group in Maryland, connoted that commercial fishermen didn’t have the voice they wanted in Annapolis under the Martin O’Malley administration — Maryland’s last governor before Hogan.
“Everything was bad with the O’Malley regime that was up there, because they ... weren’t worrying about the working man too much,” Brown said.
But, with Hogan and Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford running the show in Annapolis, things are looking up, he said, adding that the MWA is looking forward to working with O’Donnell, who Brown called an “asset” to the commercial fishing industry.
One of the issue Brown said has already been brought to O’Donnell’s attention is fresh oyster shell distribution. Brown said the state gets an overwhelming majority of the oyster shells — which are already reportedly getting harder to come by — for its sanctuary program, while watermen — who Brown said actually produce a large majority of the shells by fishing them from the water — get only about 10 percent for their programs.
O’Donnell said that, while he’s mainly working with seafood industry groups — commercial, sports, aquaculture, recreational — citizens constituents are welcome to contact him at DNR and get any questions answered they might have and, adding he’ll “serve them, too.”