By Stephen Rappaport
ELLSWORTH — In the past two weeks, Governor Janet Mills has nominated new commissioners to head most of the state’s administrative agencies, replacing appointees of former Governor Paul LePage.
One agency that will not get a new chief is the Department of Marine Resources.
Last Thursday, on her first full day on the job, Mills nominated DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher to continue to serve in the job he has held for more than seven years. Keliher’s nomination must still be approved by the Maine Senate.
“I am honored to have an opportunity to work with Governor Mills on the issues of importance to all Mainers who rely on our state’s exceptional marine resources — whether for their livelihood, or for their recreational enjoyment,” Keliher said in a written statement. “I’m proud of the strides we have made here in Maine to plan for a successful and resilient future for our coastal communities, but there is still work to be done.”
It isn’t often that the public rallies behind a government bureaucrat at risk of losing his job. It is even more unusual for the organizations that represent the diverse segments of Maine’s commercial fishing and aquaculture industries to speak with a united voice.
Unlikely as it seems, soon after last year’s election, the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, 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 all signed a joint letter to Mills voicing their unanimous support for Keliher’s reappointment as 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 then governor-elect.
Keliher was one of three LePage appointees retained by the new governor. Mills also nominated Anne Head to continue as commissioner of Department of Professional and Financial Regulation and Maj. Gen. Douglas Farnham as commissioner of the Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.
Keliher was initially appointed as DMR commissioner in July 2012 after the acrimonious resignation of LePage’s original nominee, Norman Olsen. At the time, Keliher was director of the department’s Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat.
Keliher was born in Gardiner and spent his childhood on and around the water.
During high school, Keliher ran a river herring weir and went lobstering with members of his family in Casco Bay.
Later on, Keliher became a licensed Maine guide and started his own charter boat business, taking clients fishing for striped bass between Bath and Casco Bay.
Eventually, Keliher got involved with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) and served on a number of its industry advisory boards. That led the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) of Maine (a state chapter of the larger marine recreational fishing organization) to offer him the position of part-time, then full-time director.
In 2001, the national CCA organization asked Keliher to become director of all the New England chapters. After two years, he became the executive director of the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission. He served in that position until the commission was absorbed into the DMR in 2007.
Keliher doesn’t underestimate that challenges that lie ahead for Maine’s fishing communities and welcomed the opportunity to continue his work at DMR.
“I share Governor Mills’ strong commitment to addressing the challenges posed by climate change and to growing and diversifying opportunities in the marine economy,” Keliher said. “The support I’ve received from industry is humbling. Industry’s participation in management decisions has been critical to the progress Maine has achieved and I am confident that under the leadership of Governor Mills, those relationships will grow.
“I am also grateful for the chance to continue working with the outstanding staff at DMR.”