is vowing to grow the economic value of the state's oldest industry, commercial fishing, and the coastal communities that rely on the ocean.
, who was sworn in Jan. 26 as the Department of Marine Resources commissioner, thinks those numbers can go up.
While protecting the fisheries resources has to be the No. 1 priority - no fish, no fishermen - Keliher
more can be done to promote seafood and give fishermen flexibility so they can maximize the value of their catch.
While the value of the catch typically tops $400 million, there is no price tag to measure the industry's value to Maine, he
"If the fishing industry goes away, our coast looks totally different," he
said in an interview in his
office in Hallowell.
grew up in Gardiner and spent summers on Cliff Island in Casco Bay, helping his
cousins pull lobster traps.
In his career, he has been executive director of the Atlantic Salmon Commission, which was later rolled into the DMR, and head of the department's Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries and Habitat.
As commissioner, Keliher oversees a department with a $20 million budget and fewer than 200 employees.
The state has more than 9,000 active fishermen and 3,500 licensed seafood dealers.
The focus on business development represents a shift for the department, Keliher
plans to soon hire somebody with business savvy and experience to market and maximize the value of the industry.
In recent years, the department has acted primarily as a management agency without looking at the business side of fishing and identifying financial opportunity, he
"I've got all kinds of fisheries policy people, I've got all kinds of fisheries scientists," Keliher
But there's a danger in having so much of the value on a single species, Keliher
It would be devastating if lobster falters, he
said, making it all the more important to boost other fishing sectors, such as groundfish, scallops, and urchins, which have suffered from overfishing, volatility and strict regulations.
"We need diversity," he