A year after facing criticism for the firing of a longtime state crab scientist, Gov. Larry Hogan is again being accused of placing politics above science in the management of Chesapeake Bay fisheries.
Last month, the Hogan administration declined to reappoint two watermen to a state panel that advises officials on issues related to commercial and sport fishing. Speaking on the floor of the Maryland Senate on Tuesday, Sen. Paul Pinsky suggested the watermen lost their seats on the commission because they questioned the administration’s decision last year to fire crab fishery manager Brenda Davis.
“The only thing they had in common was a year ago, they said, ‘You know what? This firing wasn’t right,’” the Prince George’s County Democrat said.
“I think there’s an absence of scruples and there’s been a fire sale of integrity from the second floor,” Pinsky added, referring to the second floor of the State House, where the governor’s offices are located.
Representatives for the Republican administration said it’s routine for them to change up representation on boards and commissions to ensure they are diverse, and condemned any suggestion the appointment decisions were driven by politics.
“Obviously none of this is true,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said. “Senator Pinsky is a very partisan and negative person, so not much of what he says should be taken seriously.”
Billy Rice, a Charles County waterman, had served as chairman of the Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission since 2011. Rachel Dean, a Calvert County waterman, had served on the panel since 2013. Both were recently informed they would not be reappointed to the panel, Pinsky said.
Neither Rice nor Dean could be immediately reached for comment. Their departure from the panel was first reported by the Bay Journal.
Last year, critics said Hogan fired Davis because of complaints from a group of watermen frustrated with her policy recommendations. Davis was considered a well-respected scientist who had managed study of the state’s crab population for almost 30 years. The state Department of Natural Resources decides each year whether crab harvest restrictions should be tightened or can be loosened, based on data analyzed by scientists like Davis.
“Here are two volunteers to help our state who have, for years and years and years given their time as watermen to the state, and then they’re told they’re no longer needed,” Pinsky said. “Last year it was a scientist. This year, they’re volunteers.”
Stephen Schatz, a spokesman for the natural resources department, thanked Rice and Dean for their service and said the department “looks forward to working with them again on fisheries management and resource issues.”
“When it comes to appointing or nominating members to various boards, commissions and councils, the Hogan administration remains committed to sitting a broad-range of representatives with diverse, refreshing and unique perspectives,” he said.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton, a Calvert County Democrat, called it “a very, very disappointing action,” adding that Rice is a personal friend. “Not to continue to use that leadership, I think, is a mistake,” he said.
But Senate Minority Whip Stephen Hershey stressed “it is the priority and the prerogative of the governor to select the members of the committees that serve the state.”
Pinsky’s comments triggered heated rebukes from Sen. Robert Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, who repeatedly interrupted Pinsky and called his comments a “cheap shot” and “a low blow when the governor can’t defend himself.”
“I think it’s wholly inappropriate,” Cassilly said. “It’s a personnel issue.”
“It’s about watermen,” Pinsky responded. "It’s about our state’s heritage.”