People - May 2007

He approaches job with baited breadth
By Chris Roush

Like many Tar Heel executives, Louis Daniel worries about cheap imports and high fuel prices. But he has other fish to fry. And he hopes everyone else will, too. He took over this year as director of the state Division of Marine Fisheries, replacing Preston Pate, 59, who retired after nearly 10 years in the post.

Daniel, 44, came into the job at a crossroads in the state's $1 billion fishing industry. About 4,000 commercial fishermen share the state's coastal waters with recreational anglers, who for the first time must get fishing licenses. Through February, about 30,000 had been issued. The permits cost $15 a year for in-state residents; $30 for out-of-state. "We didn't know how many recreational fishermen we had or where they came from." Money generated by the permits will go into a trust fund that could be used to improve fish habitat and expand public access to waters.

From his Morehead City office, Daniel oversees about 400 full- and part-time employees. He can't control fuel prices or imports, but he can try to maintain fish stocks. In the past, the division has mainly dealt with overfishing. Now, he says, it will tackle water-quality and habitat issues. "We're doing a lot of training of our marine patrol officers to recognize habitat violations. They're flying up and down the coast, looking for something fishy." When airborne officers spot dredging or dumping violations, "they can get somebody there quick."

Daniel got interested in wildlife early on. When he was 3 months old, his father, a physician, moved the family from Hartford, Conn., to Pinehurst. His fondest childhood memories involve hunting and fishing with his two brothers. After getting his bachelor's in biology in 1985 from Wake Forest University, he earned a master's in marine biology in 1988 from College of Charleston and doctorate in marine science in 1995 from the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. As part of his research, he discovered that hungry jellyfish - not polluted waters - had caused a drop in black drum in Chesapeake Bay.

After graduation, he took a job as a biological supervisor at the marine fisheries division. He has been the state's representative for federal fish-management programs and most recently served as Pate's executive assistant.

He hopes to get help from researchers at N.C. State, East Carolina and UNC Wilmington. "They can do some of the real high-powered analyses. We could get information from them that we may have not otherwise have gotten."