A day after Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. pledged to end an era of politics and retribution in the agencies that protect Maryland's environment, he appointed a top natural resource official who had been dismissed by the previous administration after advocating for watermen whom the Department of Natural Resources had accused of poaching.
In a statement announcing his nomination for deputy secretary of natural resources, Ehrlich said: "It's a rare find to acquire a person with the natural resources knowledge of Peter Jensen."
Jensen is considered an advocate for watermen, while Ehrlich's nominee for agency chief, C. Ronald Franks, is an avid sports fisherman.
Jensen, 68, a resident of Stevensville, was fired by then-Natural Resources Secretary Sarah Taylor-Rogers in 2001 after he wrote a letter on department stationery on behalf of a Baltimore waterman found guilty of poaching rockfish.
Daniel F. Beck, former president of the Baltimore County Watermen's Association, was sentenced to one year and one day in federal prison for illegally harvesting as much as $70,000 worth of rockfish from the waters off Aberdeen Proving Ground.
At the time, Jensen was director of tidal fisheries for the state, and his letter served as a character reference at Beck's sentencing.
Yesterday, Jensen said he had been asked to write a letter by Beck's attorney but did not know what it would be used for. In the letter, Jensen said, he described committees Beck had served on at the department and volunteer work he had done. Seven months later, Jensen was forced into retirement.
Later, he was called to testify for the defense in the largest rockfish poaching prosecution in the state's history.
Jensen's nomination, which goes to the Senate for confirmation, was welcomed by watermen.
"I think we'll be more comfortable with Pete in there," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association. "That's a good appointment."
Simns, who served on Ehrlich's transition team and helped offer appointment recommendations, said Jensen's appointment helped make the governor's choice of Franks as secretary of natural resources more palatable to watermen.
Franks is a founding member of the Coastal Conservation Association, which represents sportfishing industries and owns a fly-fishing business on the Eastern Shore. Historically, sport fishers and watermen have clashed over fishing regulations.
Yesterday, Franks said he did not know the details of Jensen's retirement and was not closely involved in Ehrlich's decision to name him deputy secretary.
"I'd like to talk with Pete and get the history of it," Franks said.