Dr. Russell Nelson, one of Florida’s best scientists and advocates for marine fisheries conservation, passed away unexpectedly, but peacefully at his home in Southeast Florida on October 5th. Russell shared his passion and love of the ocean and our marine resources with his wife, Ellen Peel. Russell is survived by his wife, Ellen, his mother Ruth, daughters Rebecca and Kate and his brothers Randall and Raymond.
Russell was a respected leader and advocate in many of the major conservation battles that improved fisheries in Florida as well as federal and international waters. “We are really going to miss him, his science background and his courage to stand firm for management regulations,” said Ted Forsgren of CCA Florida.
Russell, a native of Illinois, earned a PhD in zoology, fisheries ecology and statistics from North Carolina University. His professional pursuits brought him to Florida where he began his professional career with the Florida Marine Fisheries Commission (MFC) where he played a major role in the passage of protective regulations to protect redfish, snook, spotted sea trout, tarpon, and other important recreational fisheries.
Beginning in 1986 there were major efforts to protect redfish, including regulations to prohibit the commercial harvest and sale of redfish. At the final public hearing in 1988, with hundreds recreational supporters and commercial fisher opponents in the hearing room, Russell stood before the Governor and six Florida Cabinet members to explain the reasons for the rule and the need to protect redfish. He answered tough questions directed to him by the Governor and Cabinet. The final vote was 6-1 in favor of the MFC rule. Today, Florida has one of the finest redfish recreational fisheries in the world.
“Russ has been an enormous asset to the Marine Fisheries Commission and was a phenomenal contributor to the conservation of many species. He was a good scientist and a hard-nosed advocate for marine conservation,” said R.Z.”Sandy” Safley. Sandy is a former state legislator and one time member of the Marine Fisheries Commission.
In 1994, the Constitutional Amendment to “Limit Marine Net Fishing” was adopted. The overwhelming citizen support did not stop commercial fishers from filing one lawsuit after another over the regulations to implement the net limiting amendment. Russell’s expertise in developing those rules was essential to implementation. He was right in the middle of those legal battles as an expert witness on nets and how they worked. The arguments and lawsuits over the net mesh size in gill nets continue even to this day. His leadership in developing the regulations to implement the net ban amendment has had huge and ongoing positive impact Florida’s marine resources.
In 1998, the MFC and the Florida Game and Fish Commission were merged by Constitutional amendment and Russell became the FWC’s Director of Fisheries Management. For 14 years, Russell also served as a member of the Gulf and South Atlantic Federal Fisheries Management Councils.
In 2000, Russell left state government and formed his own consulting firm, Nelson Resources Consulting. Since the creation of his business he has served as a fisheries consultant for CCA National and chief scientist for The Billfish Foundation.
Dr. Nelson was fluent in several languages including Spanish which helped him in his Billfish Foundation work in several Central and South American countries. He even consulted with Swedish authorities on the value of recreational fishing and best management practices. He was an avid fisherman whose passion and work allowed him to fish in many of the world’s premier fishing destinations.
“There will never be another Russ Nelson. His leadership, his accomplishments and legacy will be remembered for many years” said Ted Forsgren.