First published in the MLA Newsletter, September, 2012.
The Department of Marine Resources is continuing to reorganize its staff and their duties in an effort to improve the agency’s efficiency. Several people have joined the agency in recent months as part of this reorganization effort.
Meredith Mendelson, 33, began her position as deputy commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) in August. A graduate of Bates College, Mendelson received her law degree from the University of Maine School of Law in 2005. She became a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow in 2006, and worked in NOAA’s Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources. Returning to Maine, she worked for the Gulf of Maine Research Institute from 2007 to 2010, then took a position as a groundfish sector manager in Pt. Judith, Rhode Island for a year. She most recently served as counsel to Senator Olympia Snowe on the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard.
So what propelled this young woman into the heady world of marine policy? “I spent time in high school sailing on an Ocean Classroom vessel, the Harvey Gamage,” Mendelson explained. Intrigued by marine topics, she continued her interest during college by enrolling in the Williams-Mystic Marine Studies Program, held at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. The one-semester program for college students is a medley of marine science, policy, literature and history classes and includes at-sea time. For her senior thesis, Mendelson produced a paper on the topic of ballast water management. Ballast water pumped from international ocean-going vessels often contains non-native species, some of which cause havoc in marine ecosystems. “That issue was at the intersection of science, policy and management,” Mendelson said, “similar to fisheries issues.”
The practical details of marine issues and how policy impacts livelihoods are what Mendelson enjoys. “I like to work directly with industry. To get into the weeds on issues” Mendelson said. Her tenure as groundfish sector manager in Pt. Judith allowed her plenty of time to delve into details. During that period fishermen who targeted skate used for bait found themselves struggling to remain a viable part of the sector. “Skate is based on volume landed,” Mendelson explained. “The groundfish sector was thinking about value, not volume.” The skate fishermen were also hampered by tight restrictions on species allowed as bycatch. By learning a great deal about the skate fishery and the elements needed for it to be successful, Mendelson and the sector were able to work out a solution. “We created an exempted fishery, based on time and space,” Mendelson said. “It’s actually being approved now.”
In her role as deputy commissioner, Mendelson will be in the thick of dozens of contentious issues, from wind energy siting to lobster management. “Primarily I will be dealing with issues where federal [authority] touches the state, legislative initiatives like Magnusson Act reauthorization, National Ocean Policy, and federal appropriations,” she said.
With the departure of Senator Olympia Snowe this fall, Mendelson acknowledges that connecting with Maine’s delegation will take on added importance. “We need to make sure we are communicating effectively to the delegation,” Mendelson emphasized. “We need to make them aware of how [federal] funds are used and the impact to our constituents if the funds are gone.”
After just a month in her new position, Mendelson is hesitant to make any predictions about her or DMR’s future. “I do think we are going to see increased discussion about the implications of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. [Application of these laws to] harbor porpoise and sturgeon will affect what happens with our fisheries.”
Chris Vonderweidt, 33, began his new job at DMR on August 20. Vonderweidt, who comes to Maine from his position as a fisheries management plan coordinator at the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), will be working with Deirdre Gilbert, DMR’s Director of Marine Policy, as a policy development specialist.
At the ASMFC, Vonderweidt worked on several major fisheries management plans, including those for tautog, Atlantic herring, winter flounder, and spiny dogfish. His most complex achievement was ushering through the review process the first management plan for coastal sharks. Since there had never been a management plan for coastal sharks the plan, which encompassed forty different species, involved compilation of large amounts of data, new regulations and multiple public meetings. “That plan, and others, allowed me to see how different fisheries management councils and the National Marine Fisheries Service worked,” Vonderweidt said. “I worked closely with the advisory panels made up of fishermen.”
Vonderweidt began work with the ASMFC after graduating from Duke University’s Nicholas School of Environment graduate studies program in Beaufort, North Carolina. “It was very exciting. I was involved in every single facet of fisheries management and seeing how the science was done,” he said. “[Through the public review process] I went to all thirteen coastal states and met the fishermen there and the commissioners.”
Although originally from Ithaca, New York, Vonderweidt’s mother came from Jefferson, Maine and he spent many of his childhood summers in that town. He found himself intrigued by the activities and culture of Maine’s coastal communities at a young age. Vonderweidt and his wife, who married in June, are both delighted to be moving to the state and have already purchased property in Bowdoinham. “My wife hasn’t seen me this happy ever,” Vonderweidt admitted. His first assignments at DMR will involve aquaculture regulation and shrimp management, among other topics.