For an inspiring example of starting at the bottom and working your way up, look no further than Chancelor “Chance” Mancuso of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ (ADCNR) Marine Resources Division (MRD).
Mancuso’s humble beginning with MRD was on a part-time basis as a laborer, and, within five years, he was honored as the 2022 Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council Officer of the Year at last week’s Council meeting in Mobile.
“I got hired in January 2017 as a part-time laborer,” Mancuso said. “After about four or five months, I became a full-time laborer for about a year. During that time, I was able to go on patrol with several of the officers to feel it out to know that’s what I wanted to do.”
In June 2018, he was offered a Conservation Enforcement Officer (CEO) position with MRD and steadily proved his worth. As with other MRD officers, Mancuso’s duties include enforcing state and federal fisheries laws and regulations in Alabama state waters and federal waters of the EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone). He conducts boardings at land and sea to inspect gear and catch, as well as participating in outreach events to educate the public on current state and federal fisheries regulations.
Although it took a while for Mancuso to gain the enforcement position, he remembers an interaction when he was growing up in Fort Payne that made an impact on his future.
“Back when I was younger, I ran into a game warden at Walmart,” he said. “Everything just kind of clicked. It seemed like something I wanted to do. I have a passion for the outdoors, doing whatever I can for conservation and protecting that for future generations.”
Mancuso headed to the Alabama Gulf Coast right out of high school to play baseball at Faulkner State Community College, now a part of Coastal Alabama Community College. He then went to the University of South Alabama and earned a degree in criminal justice with a minor in biology.
“I love it down here,” he said. “After I graduated from South, it was just one of those crazy opportunities. I stumbled upon this opening. It turned out to be the best decision I ever made. It’s been wonderful.”
When he got the CEO job, Mancuso was “low man on the totem pole” for two years.
“Everybody I worked with had a whole lot more seniority, so I had to show everybody I was willing to work hard,” he said. “I made sure I was up on the regulations. My fellow officers used to question me on those to make sure I was up to date. They helped me out a lot. They helped me get to where I am today because they cared.
“And this award is awesome. I’m really grateful to the Gulf Council. But this is not just about me. It’s about my fellow officers as well. We work together so well. This award wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for them.”
During 2022, Mancuso worked 296 hours of patrol under the NOAA Fisheries’ joint enforcement agreement. On those patrols, he was involved in 208 state and/or federal cases. Mancuso also worked multiple turtle excluder device details with NOAA as well as worked 10 Marine Mammal Protection patrols in 2022.
In one of the bigger cases he made, a subject was found with 42 undersize greater amberjacks. He also caught one of our federal gill net fishermen with illegal species on board.
Maj. Jason Downey, MRD’s Chief of Enforcement, said Mancuso’s work ethic is unparalleled.
“Officer Mancuso is always willing to put the time in to make the big case even if it means coming in on his day off or putting in the extra hours,” Downey said. “He is always eager to learn and is one of our most knowledgeable officers. Officer Mancuso exemplifies professionalism while conducting his duties, and he is a model officer to his peers.
“He’s motivated. He is our go-to training officer as well. He’s great with our new officers. I like his style, the way he trains. If they model themselves after him, they’ll be great conservation officers. Anything I ask Chance to do, he does it. And he does it with a smile on his face.”
Col. Scott Bannon, MRD director, said hiring Mancuso was a great move.
“I’m very proud of Chance,” Bannon said. “He’s an extremely hard-working young man who has a passion for his job. Chance doesn’t just go to work. He goes and gives it his all every day. He’s kind of unique in the enforcement world because he started as a laborer just to get the opportunity to have some experience within the Division. He worked his way into qualifying for an officer position, and he was selected. He wasn’t selected because he was a laborer for us. He was selected because he’s a guy who, even as a laborer, worked as hard as he could every day and showed that he has what it takes to do the job. That decision has paid off for us.
“He’s a person who is out in the field and represents the Division and Department, and it’s a very positive representation. We get calls from the public about encounters with our officers. With Chance, the calls are always positive. They tell us how good a job he is doing and how professional he is.”
In other news, the Gulf Council voted to tweak the calibration numbers used to determine the red snapper quotas for the five Gulf states. In a final rule that will become effective on July 10, 2023, Alabama’s snapper quota for private recreational anglers will increase from 558,200 pounds to 591,185 pounds. The overall Gulf recreational annual catch limit (ACL) was increased from 7.546 million pounds to 7.991 million pounds. The federal for-hire sector (federally permitted charter vessels) catch limit was increased from 3.192 million pounds to 3.38 million pounds.
“I’m still disappointed that NOAA chose to implement the calibration, but I am encouraged we get a bump up in the ACL that goes into effect on July 10,” Bannon said. “Additionally, through the Gulf Council process, we have finalized a motion to change the calibration ratio to a number that is more favorable to Alabama. It may come into play before the end of the calendar year but more likely next year for the 2024 season. That motion would increase our catch limit to 664,000 pounds. I think that’s closer to where Alabama needs to be in terms of harvesting red snapper.”
The Council also voted to increase the Gulf annual catch limit for gray (mangrove) snapper after receiving the most recent Gray Snapper Stock Assessment. The assessment incorporates new recreational landings data and indicates that gray snapper are neither overfished nor experiencing overfishing. The newly recommended catch limit for 2024 and beyond is 5.728 million pounds.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.