EASTON, Md. – Maryland’s new Department of Natural Resources Secretary, Josh Kurtz has been appointed by Governor Wes Moore amid concerns from Eastern Shore watermen.
Kurtz, who previously served as CEO of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been the subject of much discussion since his appointment was announced.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has been a strong advocate for new regulations to protect the bay and improve water quality, but some of their proposals have received push back from watermen who are concerned about the impact on their livelihood.
The Delmarva Fisheries Association held their first Eastern Shore Watermen Caucus in Easton on Sunday, and while they were hoping to hear from Kurtz himself, organizers say he backed out of the meeting.
The group’s president, Rob Newberry, is hopeful that Kurtz will be good for both the environment and the seafood industry, but he acknowledges that there is some concern about his past involvement with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
Newberry says, “Is he willing to put that behind him and be open-minded and look at the heritage-based seafood industry in Maryland? We should certainly hope so. At this point, we don’t know.”
When WBOC tried to speak with Secretary Kurtz on Monday, we were told by a DNR spokesperson that he was unavailable, and Governor Moore’s office did not respond to their request for comment.
However, in announcing Kurtz’ appointment, the Moore transition team emphasized his work at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where he led advocacy campaigns aimed at reaching the pollution reduction goals of the 2025 Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
Jeff Harrison, President of the Talbot County Watermen’s Association, says that Talbot County has the most registered watermen in the state and he has a message for the new DNR Secretary: “We just want him to know that what we’ve been doing over here you have been working, and at least work with us.”
Newberry hopes that Kurtz’s efforts to maintain sustainable fisheries do not include policies that hurt watermen. Newberry says, “He is sincere, he has made comments that he wants to move forward in a good direction, help the heritage industry in Maryland, but my guys want to hear it personally. And we demand it, we want it, and we ‘ll get it.”
Josh Kurtz is currently serving as acting DNR Secretary, and he is expected to face confirmation hearings in the state senate next month.
Senator Mary Beth Carozza sits on the Senate Executive Nominations Committee, and when asked about her opportunity to question Secretary Kurtz, she promised to “use this position to make sure all of the Governor’s nominees recognize and understand our Shore priorities, especially the nominee for the Department of Natural Resources Secretary given the Shore’s fishing, farming, and forestry industries.”
Kurtz’ former organization, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, tells WBOC that “Josh approaches natural resources issues with respect for science and compassion for the people whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment.” Eastern Shore watermen are holding out hope that the new DNR Secretary will hear and consider their concerns, and they will be closely watching the confirmation hearings in the coming months.