Bay Journal

MD lawmaker denounces crab fishery manager’s firing, calls for her reinstatement

Sen. Paul Pinsky charged DNR veteran Brenda Davis was 'sacrificed' to appease a small group of watermen

  • By Timothy B. Wheeler on February 24, 2017
Brenda Davis, who oversaw Maryland's blue crab fishery, was fired after a group of watermen complained to Gov. Larry Hogan about a catch restriction they couldn't get the Department of Natural Resources to lift. Sen. Paul Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat, called on Hogan to reinstate her, with an apology. (Dave Harp)

One of the Maryland General Assembly’s leading environmental advocates denounced the Hogan administration Friday for firing the long-time state employee who oversaw the blue crab fishery after some watermen complained to the governor about a catch restriction they could not get lifted.

Speaking at the end of the legislature’s Friday session, Sen. Paul Pinsky charged that Brenda Davis was “summarily fired’ over watermen’s unhappiness with a policy that was set by higher-ups at the Department of Natural Resources.

“She was not a decider, she was an implementer,” Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said of Davis, who was manager of DNR’s blue crab program. He said he found her firing “personally abominable,” noting that it deprives the 28-year state employee of a full pension. He called on Gov. Larry Hogan to reinstate her, with an apology.

Pinsky said that the governor “decided to make a sacrifice to appease these watermen. But unfortunately, this was a real person, a state employee of 28 years, who was sacrificed.”

A request to the governor’s press secretary for response to Pinsky’s criticism was answered by a spokesman for the DNR, who said department officials cannot discuss personnel decisions or issues.  Stephen Schatz, the department’s communications director, added that his agency “places the highest emphasis on enhancing and improving customer engagement and service as well as providing science-based conservation and management of our environment and natural resources."

Davis said she was dismissed without explanation Tuesday by DNR Fisheries Director Dave Blazer. About a dozen Dorchester County watermen had met with Hogan the previous week and complained about her and the DNR’s unwillingness to ease a rule setting the minimum catchable size for crabs. 

Under regulations in effect since 2001, it’s legal to harvest crabs as small as 5 inches across until mid-July, when the minimum size increases to 5 ¼ inches. The midseason increase was set to give male crabs more time in the water to mate with females and enhance reproduction. Tom Miller, a crab scientist and director of the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, said the seemingly small change in catch regulations helps sustain the Bay’s crab population.

The watermen have complained that the bump-up in minimum size hurts their livelihood, as many of the crabs are smaller that time of year in their area. Scott Todd, second vice president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association and a member of the Dorchester group that met with Hogan, said in an interview that the DNR and Davis had been unwilling to give them the relief they sought. It was, he said, “just one continual bang your head meeting against another.”

“I never had anything personal against Brenda,” Todd added. “I don’t want to see anyone fired, but if she had to go to make the lives of 4,000 or 5,000 people a little bit better, I don’t see that we didn’t have a right to complain about it.”

In an interview with the Bay Journal after her dismissal, Davis said the Dorchester contingent had offered to negotiate. But she said the likely harm to the crab population from easing the rule was deemed so great that the other restrictions the department would need to implement to offset it were “not attractive” to the watermen. Those alternatives included closing the crab season early, or starting later.

The DNR’s own Blue Crab Industry Advisory Committee, which includes watermen from around the Bay, recommended against the Dorchester-based pleas to change the minimum size rule. Charles County crabber Billy Rice, who chairs the DNR’ Tidal Fisheries Advisory Commission, said the department’s data showed that changing the minimum catchable size would harm the crab population, and would not bring watermen any overall economic benefit.

Davis’s firing, first reported Thursday by the Bay Journal, has drawn an outpouring of criticism on social media and elsewhere, including from some watermen who praised her willingness to work with them.

Davis was an “at-will” employee, meaning she served at the pleasure of superiors and did not enjoy the civil service protections of lower level state workers. But Pinsky contended she was one of the lowest-level at-will workers on the state payroll. He questioned why she couldn’t have been transferred to another position even if it meant removing her from oversight of the crab fishery.

Pinsky praised Davis’ long service to the state, noting she’d worked under Democratic and Republican administrations before. He said she had been treated “shabbily” by this administration.

“A few people come and complain, (and) push, she’s gone.”

About Timothy B. Wheeler
Timothy B. Wheeler is managing editor and project writer for the Bay Journal. He has more than two decades of experience covering the environment for The Baltimore Sun and other media outlets. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).
Read more articles by Timothy B. Wheeler

Comments

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Pat on February 25, 2017:

She has worked her whole life for this state, that should be surmised as she is a desirable employee, and therefore be allowed a transfer to a similar position at the same rating due to this bullshit move on managements part. If indeed, she was only following upper managements decisions, and implementing those same rules to people in her responsible environmental area, she should not be let go for doing her job. Transfer to another area within the division. If her concerned complainants do not agree with the regulations, the should follow the ladder to the person that would be able to solve their problems or concerns, or on the other hand explain why those rules cannot be changed. She did not or could not change those rules herself, so reinstate her retroactively with all pay would be the correct thing to do.


Kevin Makowske on February 25, 2017:

We need more restrictions the watermen are out of control, I have been a crabber for 48 years. They are catching sponge females and crabs that are to small. You can see the sponge crabs at pickerys and small crabs being sold. The bay can only take so much pressure. We also need more shellfish beds grasses are coming back crabs are improving a bit, but some one needs to protect our watershed from over fishing and crabbing.


Laura Dick on February 25, 2017:

Governor Hogan, You were wrong to fire Brenda Davis for implementing a policy that was set by others. She could not change the policy; she could only go by the rules. 28 years as a state employee and then to be fired! Shameful! Rehire her with an apology.


H Todd on February 25, 2017:

I can understand the Governor requesting this action towards her. If she was unwilling to listen to their requests. The scientific data is a projection, not 100% factual, they are estimated.


Jeff on February 25, 2017:

The waterman need to go along with what is best for the crab not what is best for them. If there was one crab in the bay and a watermen caught it the only question would be is it a number 1 or 2.


Patrick on February 25, 2017:

As a former Bay resident, I am encouraged to see so many speak up for Brenda Davis. Keep up the pressure, and boycott Dorchester County crabs to get your point across. The problem is that I don't think anyone who tries to make a living off the bay crabbing or oystering or fishing is ever happy about their catch...they always want more. This is the classic tragedy of the commons playing out...a few good years draws out more folks to make a living, which means increased pressure and lower individual yields, which imposes greater strain on the species, which then requires restrictions until the stocks recover, or, worse, those engaged in harvesting deplete the resource. You know, the same folks you are asking to roll back regs, are the same one who will roll back pollution controls which will have the same result as overfishing. So who will advocate on your behalf then when you just got a strong fisheries advocate fired? You may have just cut off your nose to spite your face.


Zora Lathan on February 25, 2017:

If she was fired for "implementing" her job, this makes no sense. She should be re-instated with an apology.


Carl S. on February 26, 2017:

I worked directly with Brenda for over 2 years and can vouch for her professionalism and expertise. I agree that she should be reinstated with an apology.


Bruce Wilson on February 27, 2017:

Brenda Davis was the scapegoat and if the DNR has any non political appointees with the authority to make decisions and with the moral backbone to do so !! The Chesapeake is slowly coming back in terms of crabbing and oystering , let's not go backwards .


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