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Longtime fisheries manager retires

July 28, 2018

Anyone who has fished in the region has been impacted by Rick Lorson’s work.

And after 36 years with the state Fish and Boat Commission, Lorson, who has served as the area fisheries manager for the past 30 years, retired.

Lorson started with the agency in 1978 as an intern while working on his undergraduate work. He worked as a fisheries biologist aide, a fisheries technician and a fisheries biologist before being promoted to area fisheries manager. As manager he oversaw waterways in 10 counties.

“There has been a number of positive changes in water quality relating to mine draining through mitigation efforts by the (Department of Environmental Protection) and the private sector,” he said.

During his tenure, Lorson also witnessed the improvement of the three rivers in Pittsburgh that started in the early 1970s.

“When I got here in 1988 we really started to monitor those improvements and the overall health of those rivers,” he said of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers.

Lorson said they worked to educate anglers about the fish in the three rivers.

“We tested them, and most of the fish you are able to eat, with a few exceptions, and it’s good fishing,” he said. “Some of that is reflected in the Bassmaster Classic in 2005 in Pittsburgh and the FLW Championship in 2009 in Pittsburgh.”

In Somerset County Lorson is proud of the efforts at Somerset Lake. He said one of his first assignments was dealing with the lake being more than 50 percent choked with weeds. He said then he had to deal with a gizzard shad forage fish, which is common in the three rivers system, but was unintentionally stocked in Somerset.

“We ended up with a good situation here in terms of fishing,” he said.

He said they were able to add tiger muskies and walleye and brought in channel catfish. He said the agency had a trout and bass plan, but started to add plans for the other species.

“As well as making angling better for our angling public,” he said. “We have tried to serve our angling public and protect our resource. It’s not just me. It has to do with having good people help me and good people working with me.”

The lake has been drained to allow for a dam repair project. The work, which was expected to start this year, is delayed until 2019 because of permitting issues. The estimated $6 million to $8 million project will involve building a new spillway, raising the elevation of the dam and making improvements to the dam and the structures used to control the water level.

Lorson said that his job has allowed him to be a “jack-of-all-trades and master of none.”

He has worked with agencies, including the DEP, EPA and Army Corps on Engineers.

“It has allowed a broad range of things to be dealt with,” he said. “I enjoyed everything from working with the Ohio River all the way up to Pigeon run, all the way up to the Que that has a good brown trout population.”

Lorson said that he always enjoyed his job and tried to keep a positive attitude, even if he had a disagreement with someone.

Fish and Boat Commissioner Len Lichvar said that the area fisheries manager is an important role. He said that Lorson’s work has driven regulations for certain waterways on how the resource needs to be protected.

“Rick certainly has been known to be very strong in his recommendations and his direction,” he said. “Once he makes a determination and a recommendation he’s always been able to back it up and stick to it. He always stuck to his guns based on science.”

Lorson said that he is disappointed that the Somerset Lake project, which has been the view outside his office for the past 30 years, has been delayed.

“We lost a year of good fishing,” he said. “They have a similar situation in Donegal. Hopefully things are moving faster as we progress here.”

He said he is looking forward to spending time on his hobbles.

“I have four sons, three daughters-in-law and seven grandchildren my wife Kathy and I are going to be spending some time with,” he said. “And I’ll be hunting, and fishing at a more leisurely pace.”

Lorson said the agency has not yet advertised for his replacement.

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