Sept. 7, 2006 – Department of Planning and Natural Resources marine biologist William Tobias was named Tuesday as acting executive director of the Division of Fish and Wildlife by DPNR Commissioner Dean Plaskett.
Tobias replaces former Executive Director Barbara Kojis, who held the post for seven years before retiring Aug. 31.
The appointment has not set well with a group of the island's fishermen who claim that Tobias' interests lie more with the territory's fish than with the fishermen.
For the past 10 years, Tobias has been acting chief of fisheries. David Olsen, who also had been considered for the acting executive director position, said he had hired Tobias as a marine biologist when he was director of the Fish and Wildlife division in 1980 — a position he held for several years before leaving to plan the cleanup of massive oil spills in the Middle East. Olsen has a doctorate in fishery management.
Tuesday evening, after a meeting of the St. Thomas Fishermen's Association, Olsen, who is staff scientist for the fishermen's association, said that Tobias doesn't have the technical skills for the director's position. Olsen said, "Tobias has a master's degree in marine biology, which doesn't stand up to the technical expertise needed to do the job properly."
Plaskett said Wednesday morning, "First of all, Tobias has been with the division for more than 25 years, he has a master's degree in marine biology, he is familiar with all the issues, and I am familiar with him. He has been in his present position for more than 10 years now. I believe he could do a good job."
Also, Plaskett said, "It is a temporary appointment. This administration is coming to an end, and I didn't think it necessary to bring in someone new with three months until a new commissioner, who will choose who he wants, is appointed. It is a policymaking confidential position.
"Tobias will be acting director until the end of this administration's term," Plaskett continued. "In fact, he will take a salary cut from the union position he holds now."
Fishermen's Association president Jimmy Magner, vice president Julian Magras and Olsen expressed fears Tuesday that Tobias would not act in their best interests. "We have heard him say that he is interested only in the fish, not in the fishermen," Magras said.
Tobias will take Kojis' seat on the Caribbean Fishery Management Council, the policymaking group that manages fisheries in federal waters.
Plaskett said he thought the fishermen's worries were "disingenuous." "As I've indicated," he said, "Tobias, in these last three months won't be in a position to change rules or regulations in that time span. He will be administering the status quo, which the fishermen's association assisted in bringing to reality by negotiations with the federal regulators."
Olsen said a DPNR official told him more than a week ago that the position was his. He said he had signed a job offer, and "it's only reasonable to think you have the job."
Plaskett said, "The final decision is mine. David Olsen has never spoken to me about this position. You are not hired until you have a NOPA [Notice of Personnel Action]."
The two-year-old fishermen's association has been an active voice in defending the territory's waters and V.I. fishermen's rights. Magner, Magras, Olsen and others regularly attend the federal Fishery Management Council meetings and make the fishermen's concerns known.
Olsen said, "Plaskett's claim that Tobias won't have influence is not the case because no one is overseeing him, and he will be attending council meetings. The fishery advisory council meets on a monthly basis."
Olsen said the V. I. fishing industry pulls in about $10 million annually. "That's the figure for direct sales," he said, adding that the figure is closer to $35 million when then the markup to restaurants and hotels is factored.
"Everyone thinks that fishing is a hokey thing, where fishermen sell their catch on the street out of the backs of trucks," Olsen said. "Our landings annually approach two million pounds, at $5 for fish and $8 for lobster. It's an industry this government fails to understand; its only approach to the industry is from regulation and restriction issues."
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