Natural Resources Secretary Joseph P. Gill is no longer "acting." As expected, the Senate voted Friday to confirm him after an extraordinary hearing at which watermen protested his oversight of the commercial fishing industry and Gill apologized for a "communications gap" with the group.
The vote was 40 to 7.
Gill's confirmation had been on hold since late January, after the president of the Maryland Watermen's Association accused him of threatening commercial fishermen with loss of catch if the department failed to win legislative authority to change fishing seasons and quotas on short notice. Robert T. Brown, the group's president, said Gill warned him "I will hurt you" after Brown and other watermen appeared at a hearing to urge lawmakers not to grant the department so much regulatory leeway.
Brown and a delegation of watermen attended a hearing last week to urge the Executive Nominations Committee not to confirm Gill, arguing that he had displayed an uncooperative and unprofessional attitude toward watermen on several occasions since becoming acting secretary in May. Former DNR Secretary John R. Griffin, now Gov. Martin O'Malley's chief of staff, defended Gill's professionalism and told the committee he believed the watermen were mainly upset about DNR policies on oysters, rockfish and menhaden that were actually made by him, Griffin.
Gill denied threatening Brown or watermen, saying he was just trying to explain the potential consequences of the departmetn not getting more regulatory flexibility. But he apologized nonetheless and pledged to keep an open door for watermen and work on closing what he called a "communication gap." Gill was DNR's chief lawyer for 14 years before being tapped as deputy secretary in 2010.