Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

Top fish management posts changing faces

By Mike
Moore
Editor

Columbus — The leadership in the fisheries section of the DNR
Division of Wildlife will look much different in October.

Gary Isbell, the division’s fish management and research chief
in Columbus, is retiring at the end of this month after 28 years
with the Division of Wildlife. Ray Petering, an assistant under
Isbell in charge of inland fisheries, will step up the ladder to
the administrator’s spot when Isbell leaves.

At the same time, Jim Stafford, who’s also put in more than 28
years with the division, will retire from his post in charge of the
state’s six fish hatcheries. He will be replaced by Elmer Heyob, a
fisheries biologist in central Ohio who has worked for the Division
of Wildlife for 25 years, including about half of that time in the
fish hatchery section.

The move is bittersweet for Petering, who has worked under
Isbell for the past 10 years.

“The reason I wanted to come over here and work was to work
under someone like Gary,” Petering said recently. “If you want to
get better, you have to work with the best. I’ve approached it as
keep your mouth shut and your ears open and you might learn
something.”

Isbell, 53, came to the Division of Wildlife in 1978 after
earning a fisheries degree from the University of Washington and a
master’s degree at Ohio State University. A native of Toledo,
Isbell first went to work for the division as a fish hatchery
manager at Put-In-Bay, raising coho salmon. Next, Isbell moved over
to the Sandusky fish research unit where he worked until 1983. His
career then took him to Columbus where from 1983 to 1989 he worked
in fish research and analysis. From 1989 to 1991, he was an
assistant administrator in the fish management section before
taking over the top leadership post in 1991.

Given his history with the division, it’s obvious that Isbell
has been exposed to the inner workings of the biological processes
that are involved with managing Ohio’s sportfishery. But, much more
of his experience came outside of the lab, he said.

“What makes this job interesting is that it’s not just about
genetics and biology,” Isbell said. “There’s a huge socioeconomic
impact on fishing that’s aside from all of the biological impacts …
There’s a whole lot of other factors involved that can’t be derived
from the research alone.”

Isbell counts himself lucky to have been the leader of a
hard-working group of people that stretch from border to
border.

“I’ve enjoyed the people aspect of the job,” he said. “I don’t
think a lot of people realize that sprinkled around the state there
are almost 100 people involved in the fishery program. I’ve really
enjoyed encouraging them in all aspects of their work, whether it’s
hatchery people, researchers, district managers or the guy mowing
the grass at an area. It’s fun to work with those people because
they’re extremely motivated … You don’t find that in every
business.”

According to Petering, Isbell led his crew by example.

“He always told me ‘do the right thing,’” said Petering, who
currently manages Ohio’s inland fisheries. “Sometimes the decisions
you have to make won’t be popular but if you do the right thing
then you can live with yourself.”

Isbell has all confidences in his replacement as well.

“(Petering) probably has as broad of an insight and perspective
about what’s going on inland as I do on my strong suit, which is
Lake Erie,” Isbell said. “He’s been responsible for everything
outside of Lake Erie in fisheries management.”

Isbell offers this parting advice for fisheries leaders who come
after him.

“You can’t get to the point where you think you know what people
want,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of different types of fishermen
from the fly fisherman up north to the catfisherman on the Ohio
River. They all count and you have to listen to them.”

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