Tuesday, February 7th, 2023
Tuesday, February 7th, 2023

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OH: DNR fisheries chief to retire

Columbus – For as long as he can remember, Ray Petering's best pose was with a fishing rod in hand.

The Cincinnati-area native is the executive administrator for fish management with the DNR Division of Wildlife.

But Petering has announced that he will be retiring at the end of December, becoming the latest in a long line of experienced and valued personnel to leave the division.

"Ohio's anglers will be losing a strong defender with Ray's retirement," said Division of Wildlife Chief David Lane. "But the relationships and partnerships he's developed within the angling community will benefit the Division of Wildlife for many years to come."

Petering graduated from Ohio State University with a bachelor's degree in 1980. He then matriculated to the University of Georgia for his master's degree, all with the intention of eventually landing a job in fish management.

"Prior to that, I was just another kid who liked to fish just like everybody else," Petering said. "I liked it so much that it was all I could think about.

"Like we tell our constituents all the time, some of whom just view you as a typical government bureaucrat, we're just the top of the pyramid when it comes to avidity," he said. "We like it so darn much that we made a career out of it. Rather than working in a factory and daydreaming about fishing, you're working at it every day."

While pursuing his post-graduate work in Georgia, Petering made an important life decision that would shape his career.

"I actually had gone down there thinking I might be interested in working in that part of the country," Petering said. "I realized after I had been down there awhile how much I loved Ohio and the Midwest."

The next nine years of Petering's career brought him back to OSU where he focused on fisheries research.

"That was a really good start because I got to know at least the central Ohio wildlife people," he said.

That connection eventually led to Petering landing a fisheries biologist position in District 1 of the Division of Wildlife.

"Those guys all knew me well enough and that makes a big difference when you're competing against a lot of other people for a job," he said.

Petering worked in District 1 for just a couple of years and then became the first ever supervisor for the newly formed inland fisheries research unit in Hebron.

He was barely in Hebron six months when an opening for hatcheries administrator opened up in Columbus. Petering landed that job, too, leading him to move to Upper Arlington where he still lives.

From there, Petering became the leader of the division's inland fisheries unit. He worked at that job until 2006 when fisheries chief Gary Isbell retired. Petering then became executive administrator for fish management, overseeing 105 fisheries employees. When he retires, he will have served about five years in the top spot.

For much of the past year, Petering has also served as acting assistant chief of the division.

"It's been an interesting odyssey all in all," the 30-year veteran said. "It's one of those things where I eventually will sit down and look back on it … I never had my eye on a position thinking that if I didn't get it my career wouldn't be successful. I've always enjoyed every position that I've been in."

The reason he chose this field is apparent, Petering said.

"You get into this field because you like the outdoors," he said. "And that's what this is all about. I can remember days when we were early on in our careers, talking about how great it was to be working outside. The thought then was I could never survive working indoors, sitting at a desk and wearing a tie."

Yet, the latter is what Petering has been doing for the past 16 years. But the fishing fire has never stopped burning within him.

"I became the poster child for what I got into this field to avoid," he said. "It goes with the territory. Someone has to do this stuff.

"It doesn't come with the same kind of satisfaction that a sunrise or sunset on a lake does but at the same time you have a lot more influence on policies and programs," Petering said. "It's a different kind of satisfaction."

Though he's not yet had time to reflect, Petering said there is one thing about his career that is crystal clear.

"The one thought that I'm left with is a conversation we had back in school," he said. "Everybody who works in this field knows that you're not going to get rich doing it… Now, I'm here toward the end of it and thinking about all of the terrific people that I've met in this field… I was wrong. I think I was fortunate in that you can get very rich… It's just a matter of how you interpret the word ‘rich.' I wouldn't change a thing."

Petering certainly is an avid fisherman, but college athletics, and particularly Ohio State sports, is a big part of who he is. On his cell phone voicemail, Petering refers to himself as "Buckeye Ray."

"One thing is for sure," he said. "The Buckeye in me is not going to let me leave Columbus, Ohio. I'll be around for hunting and fishing and whatever… I'll be looking to stay engaged somehow."

Growing up in the Cincinnati area, Petering as a kid made regular visits to Ohio River tributaries and farm ponds. But, it was at the abundant pay lakes in the area where he really got his start.

"That was where I cut my teeth early on," he said. "There were a couple of ponds in the neighborhood and a couple of pay lakes that I could walk to.

Petering spent countless hours scanning roadside ditches for soda bottles that would fetch two cents apiece.

"If I could get 50 of them, I'd take them to a little carryout where I could get a dollar for them," he said. "That would pay for my fishing on Saturday."

Petering fished a lot of farm ponds in his neighborhood all under the tutelage of family members.

"My dad is the one who got me started fishing and I had an uncle who liked to fish a lot," Petering said. "Once I got old enough to get mobile, I started branching out. I'd run to lakes in southeast Indiana and northern Kentucky as well as lots of places in southwest Ohio.

"There was nowhere where I was happier or more comfortable than sitting on the shore of a lake," he said.

Petering has no idea who will take over his position, but he has every confidence that the machine will continue to run smoothly.

As for his own future plans, Petering owns a cabin on a lake in northern Wisconsin at which he intends on spending some time. He also travels to the Florida Keys each winter for some fishing.

"There's lots of great places to visit and hang out," he said. "But, you have to call somewhere home… This is where I plan to stay until the end."

Larry Mixon, chairman of the Ohio Wildlife Council, said Petering's professionalism and jovial nature will be missed.

"I've always understood that you win with people," Mixon said. "I've always appreciated the quality of (Petering's) work as well as his loyalty and commitment to excellence.

"Ray is just a fun, upbeat guy," he continued. "… I think I can speak for all council members in that we're all sad to see him leave and we hope it works out well for him."

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