Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council acknowledged the life-time work of Council staff member Roger Pugliese with the SAFMC 2023 Award of Excellence during its meeting this week in Charleston, South Carolina. The award, presented during a social held at the SC Department of Natural Resources, came as a surprise to Pugliese but was no surprise to those that have worked with him during his 38-year career leading the Council’s efforts in habitat protection, ecosystem-based management, and coral conservation. (Photo: L-R Council Chair Dr. Carolyn Belcher, Roger Pugliese, Executive Director John Carmichael)
The Council established the Award of Excellence in 2022 to recognize those who have made substantial contributions to the science, management or sustainability of the marine resources and habitats under the Council’s jurisdiction. Nominations are accepted by Council members, advisory panel members, and members of the Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee.
“Roger’s work, research and activities as a Council staff member have directly benefited the conservation of marine resources in the South Atlantic,” explained Dr. Wilson Laney, Adjunct Professor at NCSU, retired US Fish & Wildlife Fishery Biologist, and member of the Council’s Habitat and Ecosystem Advisory Panel, noting Pugliese’s achievements over his career. They include assembling unmatched data and spatial information on fish species life history, diet, ecology, and habitat use, working with state and federal partners; integrating habitat and ecological information into the Council’s Habitat and Fishery Ecosystem Plans beginning in 1998 and continuing to the present; and recruiting top experts for the Council’s Habitat Advisory Panel.
Pugliese has also been instrumental in working with Council members, advisory panel members, and stakeholders to identify and designate Essential Fish Habitat and Habitat Areas of Particular Concern. These designations continue and are vital to sustaining fishery habitat and economically important fisheries dependent upon them. He has also been instrumental in developing Council policies relative to habitat-related issues, such as beach re-nourishment and offshore energy.
Letters of support for Pugliese noted his “dedication, inquisitiveness, enthusiasm, drive, passion, outgoing personality, willingness to mentor others in the field, and out-of-the-box thinking.” He has assumed leadership responsibilities with partner organizations at regional and national levels, including the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program’s (SEAMAP) South Atlantic Committee, the Southeast Coastal Ocean Observing Regional Association (SECOORA), and most recently, the East Coast Climate Scenario Planning Core Team, exploring jurisdictional and governance issues related to climate change and shifting fishery stocks.
As the staff member responsible coral reef and live bottom habitat conservation, Pugliese engaged regional partners in prioritizing exploration, resulting in the NOAA flagship Okeanos Explorer focusing on mapping and characterization of deepwater coral ecosystems in the South Atlantic region. Coordination with researchers, fishermen, and managers ultimately supported the Council’s designation of Deepwater Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concerns representing the most extensive distribution of essentially pristine deepwater coral ecosystems in the world.
“I sincerely appreciate this honor and more importantly, the opportunity the Council family has afforded me to advance my heart and soul’s desire for conservation,” said Pugliese. “In an almost four-decade journey, with so many supportive and dedicated partners, we’ve built a solid foundation needed to tackle future challenges,” explained Pugliese. “Take care of the ocean and it will take care of you.”
Roger will retire in December 2023 from the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council and plans to spend time with his wife Carol, sons Joshua and Fisher, and a menagerie of family pets including dogs, cats, and iguanas. You will also find him turkey hunting, traveling to Hawaii, and offshore fishing – continuing his passion for marine conservation.