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Ken Keene Ken Keene. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries
Keene aboard Gloria Michelle Keene on a trip years ago aboard the R/V Gloria Michelle. Photo credit: NOAA Fisheries
Keene with his dog Ken Keene with his dog, Lukas. Photo credit: Karen Keene

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October 2, 2017
Contact: Shelley Dawicki

Safety a Priority for New Mid-Atlantic Area Fisheries Observer Program Lead

New Jersey native Ken Keene is happy to be back living and working in his home state after working in the southeast for more than a decade.

As the new Mid-Atlantic Area lead and safety lead for the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program, Keene will be based at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Howard Laboratory at Sandy Hook. He will be working with the fishing industry in ports from New Jersey to North Carolina, serving as the point of contact for the observer program in that region.

The observer program is part of the Center’s Fisheries Sampling Branch, which collects, processes, manages and provides fishery dependent data and biological samples from commercial fishing vessels.  Collection of these data is mandated or otherwise needed for management under federal acts including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Branch staff and observers under contract perform at-sea operations aboard commercial vessels to collect information on fishing operations, fishing effort, and catch, including by-catch and discard information, economic data and vessel efficiency, and biological samples of landed catch and discard.

“I am really excited to get going on this new challenge,” said Keene, who has spent the past decade working with observers on vessels in the pelagic longline fleet in the Southeast. That program monitors vessels working from Newfoundland to Brazil in the western Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. “The Northeast Fisheries Observer Program is much larger, but many of the goals are the same.” 

Keene attended Stockton University, receiving a B.S. degree in marine resource management with a minor in biology. After earning a master’s at Texas A&M in fisheries science and policy, he accepted a job as a lab instructor at Brookdale Community College’s satellite campus on Sandy Hook. That led to work with Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences nearby, and eventually to a contract position as operator of the 49-foot research vessel Nauvoo at the NEFSC’s Howard Lab. Ken worked at Sandy Hook from 1999 to 2005, spending a considerable amount of that time converting the Nauvoo from its previous life as a U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender to a lab research vessel.

“I also had a chance to go to sea as a deck hand on the NEFSC’s research vessel Gloria Michelle, and hope I can do that again soon,” Keene said.  “It was a great experience.”  The Center’s 72-foot vessel spent some time at the Sandy Hook Lab in the 1990s before finding a permanent home at the Woods Hole Laboratory.   

An opportunity to work as the safety and data lead in the Pelagic Observer Program at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center led Keene to Miami, where he worked with many fishing tournaments. He became program manager in 2010.

Although he is in the final stages of moving from Miami to his home in New Jersey, a task complicated a bit by Hurricane Irma, Keene is anxious to move forward. He recently spent a week in Falmouth meeting staff at the Woods Hole Laboratory and staff from the regional office in Gloucester, Mass. as well as port agents from Maine to Virginia.

“I am really thrilled to be back in New Jersey and in the Northeast,”  Keene said. “I have no shortage of New Jersey pride. My family is here, and I am a great fan of the region’s seafood.  I am also looking forward to be able to serve as a first responder, or call firefighter, in Navesink, not far from the lab and where I grew up. I haven’t been able to do that for a while, so it feels great being able to serve the community and get back to my roots.”

No stranger to the Center’s Observer Program, Keene already knows many of the staff through his observer work in the southeast over the past decade and as a member and chair of the National Observer Program Safety Advisory Team. He also has extensive knowledge and skills in maritime safety as a small boat operator.

“Given his experience and knowledge, we are looking forward to Ken’s contributions to train, equip, and support observers in emergency preparedness and response, and to improve our sea-day accomplishments and working relationships with industry and state managers in the mid-Atlantic fishing ports,” said Amy Martins, who oversees the Northeast Fisheries Observer Program.

In the coming months Keene will spend time visiting the various ports in the Mid-Atlantic region and plans to be visible as he gets to know council and commission representatives, vessel operators and crews, and the observers.  

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