SBU SoMAS, NY Sea Grant Honor Retiring State Senator, a Leader in New York on Marine Resource Issues
General - News

Stony Brook, NY, September 26, 2012 - For the past 40 years, the recognized leader, the main man in the New York State Senate on needs and issues involving the State’s marine resources was Senator Owen T. Johnson, from Babylon, New York on Long Island’s South Shore. Little marine legislation passed the Senate unless the Senator allowed it to pass.

But, as Senator Johnson said in a July 2012 statement, "After careful reflection and deep discussion with my wife Christel and my family, I have decided to not seek re-election to the New York State Senate. Propelled by the support of so many good people, I have enjoyed a fruitful forty year career, but now is the time for me to put my family and health first."

In mid-September, Stony Brook University (SBU)'s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) hosted a small and informal ceremony honoring Senator Johnson and his leadership on marine issues in New York. Attending were State Senators John Flanagan and Ken LaValle; Jim Gilmore, current Director of Marine Resources for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; Gordon Colvin, Gilmore’s predecessor who served as Director of Marine Resources for nearly 25 years; and Cornelia Schlenk of the New York Sea Grant Program, as well as others from SoMAS and Sea Grant.

After a welcome and introductory remarks from SoMAS Dean Minghua Zhang, Bill Wise, Director of SoMAS’s Living Marine Resources Institute, gave a brief summary of the Senator’s legislative career and his many accomplishments. He noted that Senator Johnson sponsored virtually all of the major pieces of legislation that shaped New York State’s approach to marine resource management since 1972. He was the father of the State Environmental Protection Fund, a landmark mechanism for open space conservation and land acquisition for such uses as parks, public forests, recycling facilities and historic preservation. The Senator was a Commissioner with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission for more than 30 years and honored by that group. Wise concluded by observing that Senator Johnson was always a good friend to SoMAS, but never more so than in 2000, when he secured $1 million in the State budget to create the Marine Animal Disease Lab (MADL) at SoMAS.

Attendees, Senator Owen T. Johnson retirement even at SoMAS. L to R: Cornelia Schlenk, NY Sea Grant; Senator Ken LaValle; Bill Wise, SoMAS; Senator Owen Johnson; Senator John Flanagan; Minghua Zhang, SoMAS; Jim Gilmore, NYS Dept. Environmental Conservation. Photo by Barbara A. Branca

During the event, Mr. Johnson’s Senate colleagues spoke honestly of his quiet leadership among the Long Island delegation to the State Senate.

Gilmore and Colvin noted the importance of the Senator’s support for enlightened marine resource and fisheries management as that field evolved from a purely state-by-state approach to a collective, multi-state regional approach on the East Coast.

Addressing Johnson, Schlenk described the many interactions the Sea Grant program in New York had with Senator Johnson over the years and his consistent advocacy of State support for the program. "Our interactions with you and your staff have always been very positive and you've always been very interested and enthusiastic in what Sea Grant does to help New York's agencies and communities," she said. Schlenk then detailed some of the specific support Sea Grant has garnered from Johnson for the South Shore Estuary Reserve Program, the New York Seafood Council, the marina/boating and fishing/shellfish industries as well as for efforts such and Long Island Sound lobster research and relief.

Sea Grant and SoMAS presented the Senator with plaques commemorating his accomplishments in the Legislature, but not before Schlenk added, "Clearly marine issues and their importance to New York have been a high priority for you," added Shlenk. For more, check out the nearly 5-minute video below, edited by SBU SOMAS' Mark Lang.

When the speakers had spoken, it was Senator Johnson’s turn. He spoke briefly and simply that his interest in marine resources grew from a boyhood spent on Great South Bay. He expressed some discomfort with receiving such praise for doing in the Legislature what, in his view, “…he was supposed to do; trying to do what was right.” The Senator confided that he had missed a lot of birthday parties and family occasions over the past 40 years and that he was looking forward to spending some quality time with his wife and family, perhaps some of it on the 900-acre dairy farm that he owns in upstate New York.

He thanked all present for their comments and wished them well. Then, it was time for cake.

— Compiled by Paul C. Focazio

More Info: New York Sea Grant

New York Sea Grant (NYSG), a cooperative program of Cornell University and the State University of New York, is one of 33 university-based programs under the National Sea Grant College Program (NSGCP) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The NSGCP engages this network of the nation’s top universities in conducting scientific research, education, training and extension projects designed to foster science-based decisions about the use and conservation of our aquatic resources. Through its statewide network of integrated services, NYSG has been promoting coastal vitality, environmental sustainability, and citizen awareness about the State’s marine and Great Lakes resources since 1971.

For updates on Sea Grant activities: has RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube links. NYSG also offers a free e-list sign up via for NY Coastlines, its flagship publication, and Currents, its e-newsletter supplement, each distributed several times a year.

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