Marine Chief

From the swimming pool to the Jersey coast, Brandon Muffley ’96 has landed a dream job as the chief of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries for New Jersey.
Thursday, August 18, 2011

How was it that Brandon Muffley ’96 grew up in the shadow of a ski resort, but ended up working in a field office along the Jersey coast?

The answer lies in the Florida Keys.

An avid swimmer since the age of 6, Muffley of Cherryville, Pa., used to attend a swim camp in Florida, where he would fish, snorkel in the reefs off the Keys and swim with the dolphins.

“At the age of 13, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life on the ocean,” he said. “I was fascinated by everything that I saw in the ocean. I knew I wanted to do something marine related.”

Now 23 summers later, you could say that Muffley has attained his childhood dream. As the chief of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife, Muffley works out of a field office on the Nacote Creek, a tributary of the Mullica River. There, he oversees the administration of marine-fisheries management programs. According to its website, the bureau aims to protect, conserve and enhance marine fisheries resources. While it’s a massive task — the bureau covers 127 miles of Atlantic coast and 83 miles of bayshore, and generates recreational and commercial fish revenues of about $2 billion annually — Muffley felt well prepared when he applied for the position three years ago because of his experience in the research lab and in the field.

“When I look back on my career, I could never imagine becoming a bureau chief at 33. It’s something that I would consider doing in my 50s. At the time, there were a lot of retirements, including this position, so I ended up applying and getting the job,” explained Muffley, who resides in Little Egg Harbor Township, N.J., with his wife, Kimberly Johnson-Muffley ’95 and their son. “I think you have to take those opportunities when they are there because they might not come up again.”

As an undergraduate, Muffley excelled in and out of the water, graduating with honors in Marine Sciences and setting the program record for the 200-meter butterfly stroke as a member of the Rider swimming and diving team. He got his first taste of field experience when he participated in the two-week field-course trip to Bermuda as a sophomore. There, he explored different environments daily and conducted lab work, and was also able to gain additional critical thinking skills while studying the competitive interaction of snails as part of his senior thesis in the laboratory of  Dr. Richard Alexander.

After graduating, Muffley took a position as an aquatic biologist with the New York City parks department. While there, he worked for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to study fish populations through electro-shocking. Through that experience, Muffley realized that he wanted to work with fish, and applied to the University of Maryland to pursue a graduate degree in fisheries science.

“The Marine Science degree from Rider covered everything from oceanography, including waves and tides, to the chemical side of things. You get exposure to everything,” Muffley said. “In graduate school, I learned that all those things impact fisheries and biology. In order to get a good perspective of biology, you have to have a good understanding of the physics and chemistry of the ocean in order to understand how they influence biology.”

Through the Maryland Department of Nautural Resources, Muffley got a job as a fisheries biologist, working in the field, conducting surveys, and studying fish in the lab. During this time, his supervisor piqued his interest in fisheries stock assessment, which incorporates the data, such as age, sex, size and mortality, of a population.

“Stock assessment really drives how we manage our fisheries and whether or not we are taking too much,” explained Muffley who later took a job conducting stock assessments for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.

In his current post, Muffley helps implement regulations and legislation in order to maintain sustainable levels of marine fisheries systems. He also guides what kind of research and monitoring jobs the bureau conducts, a task that involves managing research and field programs through the bureau and its partnering universities, including Rider.

Muffley continues to remain connected to the Science departments at Rider. He has developed a professional relationship with Dr. Paul Jivoff, associate professor of Biology, who conducts research on blue crabs in Barnegat Bay. Recently, Muffley returned to the Lawrenceville campus as a guest lecturer for an Oceanography class taught by Randy Kertes ’84, also a swimming and diving alum. There, Muffley gave students a background on marine fisheries and their importance to the state.

“I think it’s been beneficial that I’ve gone through the entire gamut of the industry, from fresh water and marine fisheries to field biology and stock assessments. I am able to bring all those experiences and share them with my staff,” he explained.I feel fortunate to be in a career that I am so passionate about.”

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Brandon Muffley ’96 is the chief of the Bureau of Marine Fisheries for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife.