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Fisheries Chief’s Exit Remains Unexplained

From an Outer Banks Voice report.

The sudden resignation of Louis Daniel III as director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries last week caught supporters, critics, employees and commission members by surprise.

Louis Daniel

Louis Daniel

The move was disclosed Feb. 29 in an e-mail from John Evans, chief deputy secretary of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality, alerting department staff of the resignation and appointment of Jerry Kelley, head of the N.C. Marine Patrol, as acting director.

Daniel served as director since 2007.

Elected officials, including Gov. Pat McCrory, who will appoint Daniel’s successor, have yet to comment publicly on the resignation.

Both commercial and recreational fishing groups had expressed dissatisfaction with Daniel’s administration over the course of his tenure, but even those who tangled with him at times were taken aback by the decision.

“This news came as a bit of a shock when I heard it at 4:00 (that afternoon),” said Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, an organization that supports commercial fishermen.

While they often disagreed, Schill said Daniel kept communication open and respectful, and was grateful that Daniel was always available to talk.

Commission member Janet Rose of Currituck also expressed surprise at Daniel’s sudden departure and said she was also unsure what may have led to it.

A previous article in the Outer Banks Voice raised concerns about the actions of the recreational and at-large members of the commission, particularly at-large member Chuck Laughridge. Laughridge was a former fundraiser and board member of the Coastal Conservation Association, an interest group representing recreational anglers.

State Rep. Bob Steinberg, R-Chowan, publicly raised the issue in September that the commission was suspected of breaking open meetings laws.

In an earlier interview, state Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, said the commercial industry had lost faith in the ability of the commission to fairly regulate both the commercial and recreational sides, and that something needed to be done to restore faith and fairness.

Sources said the issues raised by Steinburg and Cook triggered the Office of State Auditor Beth Wood to initiate a probe of activities of both the division and commission. The findings of that audit were released on Feb. 16.

Among the questions that were posed to the Auditor’s Office included accusations that there had been violations of open meetings laws, and that Daniel would send e-mails to only select members of the commission.

Southern flounder was the primary issue discussed in the e-mails, and three of the four were originated by at-large or recreational members. A majority of the commission members and Daniel were copied in the communications.

Sources say Daniel was moved to the division’s Shellfish Sanitation Section, which is responsible for monitoring and classifying coastal waters’ suitability for shellfish harvesting for human consumption.

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About the Author

Sam Walker

Sam Walker is the news director of Max Radio of the Carolinas and a staff writer for the "Outer Banks Voice."