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DMR Home > About DMR > Commissioner > Guest Column, May 2012 MLA Newsletter

Commissioner Keliher, photo by Patrice McCarronWhat's Up at DMR - Priorities and Reorganization

By Patrick Keliher, Department of Marine Resources Commissioner

From the May 2012 Maine Lobstermen's Association Newsletter

As some may be aware from my comments at the Fishermen’s Forum in March [2012], or at various other lobster, scallop or urchin meetings over the past several months, one of the first things that I took on as Commissioner was a reorganization of the structure of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Perhaps it is to be expected that a new administration and a new Commissioner would want to take a fresh look at things and place emphasis on their own priorities. In this case, another driving force behind the need for reorganization was the drastic changes in the federal funding sources upon which the Department historically has relied. With rapidly diminishing federal funds, it quickly became imperative that DMR take a hard look at prioritizing its work for maximum benefit to the state’s fisheries resources and the industries that depend upon them.

The reorganization began with a review by senior staff of the mandates and authorities given to the Department by the legislature since the DMR was created. The Governor has been clear that agencies should not be doing more than our legislative mandates spell out. The Marine Resources statutes contain authorizations for all Department programs. So we asked two important questions:

  1. Is there anything that DMR is doing that it was not directed to do?
  2. Is there anything that DMR was directed to do that we are not doing?

This review was intended to ensure that DMR was not overstepping its statutory authorities nor failing to deliver on specific assignments. I was glad to see that DMR had not developed programs that had no basis in statute. There were, however, authorities that the Legislature had given the Department in the past which had stopped as a result of previous budget reductions. A good example of this is the Department’s authority to engage in seafood marketing. By law, DMR is designated as “the primary state agency providing promotional and marketing assistance to the commercial fishing industries.” (12 MRS §6052 sub-§3)

DMR has not done this in any significant way for several decades. DMR is primarily a regulatory agency and I don’t think we will ever be directly responsible for conducting marketing and promotion. I do think, however, we have an important role to play as a liasion to industry associations that carry out this work.

Toward that end and as part of the reorganization, I proposed - and the Governor agreed - to create a new position at DMR. This position will facilitate marketing and promotion of Maine seafood, serve as the primary contact for individuals seeking assistance in enhancing existing seafood businesses or bringing new businesses to Maine, and assist businesses with locating available state and federal resources. In addition, this position will be responsible for providing information and conducting outreach on behalf of the Department, to keep both industry members and the general public informed with regard to Department initiatives and actions.

I hope that this will be an effective first step toward raising the profitability of all Maine fishermen whether landings are strong, as in lobsters, or rebuilding, as in scallops, shrimp, and groundfish.

As the analysis for the reorganization continued, senior staff worked together to prioritize all Department programs and activities. This led to other changes that were more structural in nature and meant to improve Department functions and management of staff. These changes include:

  • Redirection of resources away from lower priority areas toward high priority areas: A lack of sufficient resources in the Department’s Division of Public Health was keeping fishermen out of productive shellfish flats. I removed this Division from the Bureau of Resource Management and made it a stand-alone component of the Department. Under a new director and with an enhanced and restructured staff, Public Health has made significant progress in opening acres of shellfish flats that are now determined to be safe for human consumption.
  • A clear separation between the science and policy: Under the new structure, there is a clearer division between the policy branch of the Department and the science branch. Staff from both these offices must work closely together, yet the roles of each must be clear. This delineation will be especially important as the Department begins development of fisheries management plans for fisheries in state waters.
  • Cross-training of staff to improve services: In all areas of the Department we are looking at opportunities for staff to become cross-trained to carry out different duties as work changes throughout the year. This type of approach will allow us to bring focused efforts to bear when needed, particularly in those fisheries that we have to manage more intensively through the rebuilding process.

I know that change is not always comfortable. But it is my hope that your experiences with the changes at DMR will be positive ones that improve the services you receive as well as improve your bottom line.

I want to assure you that the reorganization has not diminished Marine Patrol in any way. My goal is to ensure that the Bureau of Marine Patrol is fully staffed within each section. There is no plan to reduce science staff in the Boothbay Harbor laboratory, and we will be filling currently vacant positions to enhance the policy staff in Hallowell. The Governor strongly supports DMR’s work in preserving and enhancing jobs and economic opportunity in Maine’s working waterfronts, and the work done for the reorganization should serve us well in the upcoming zero-based budgeting exercise. If you have questions as these efforts move forward, please feel free to contact me, or any of my staff.