Under the Dome

Embattled marine fisheries director steps down

Louis Daniel, executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries.
Louis Daniel, executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries. N.C. Department of Environmental Quality

Updated: The executive director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries abruptly stepped down from his job on Monday.

Louis Daniel has led the agency since January 2007, through an occasionally tumultuous period that saw recreational and commercial fishing interests fighting. Last year Daniel was caught in the cross-fire over what steps should be taken to preserve the Southern Flounder.

The announcement was made in an email from the Department of Environmental Quality deputy secretary to all employees. John Evans said in the email that Col. Jim Kelley will serve as acting director.

Kelley has been with the N.C. Marine Patrol for nearly 25 years and has been its leader since January 2014, according to the department.

Daniel, a native of Pinehurst, worked his way through the ranks starting as a supervisory biologist. He was named chairman of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission in 2013, serving a two-year term until late last year.

As a past chairman, he was to serve a two-year term on the commission’s executive committee. In November, he said he was looking forward to working with newly appointed representatives on the commission, including state Rep. Bob Steinberg, a Republican from Edenton.

Earlier this month, the state auditor released a report addressing concerns and questions raised by a handful of state legislators, including issues related to Daniel. Some lawmakers injected themselves into the flounder controversy last year, and said the legislature would resist flounder stock protections if they went too far.

Update: Jerry Schill, president of the N.C. Fisheries Association, which represents the industry, issued a statement on Tuesday saying Daniel’s departure came as a surprise.

“As for our relationship, we were very far apart from agreeing on everything, but kept communication open and respectful,” Schill said. “He was always available to talk, and for that I’m grateful. ... Now begins the difficult process for the governor to name a replacement.”

An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Daniel had led the division since January 2014, and misidentified Evans as the general counsel.