Jack Montoucet

State Rep. Jack Montoucet, D-Crowley, concentrates on work during the last day of the 2015 Legislative Session.

Crowley Rep. Jack Montoucet was tapped Friday to head the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

A longtime ally of Gov. John Bel Edwards, the Democratic alligator farmer was chosen by the governor to be secretary of the beleaguered agency starting Jan. 16.

Montoucet, 69, replaces Charlie Melancon who says he was forced out of the office earlier this month because of opposition to changes he pushed to rein in shoddy financial practices by the previous administration that had been sharply criticized by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor. Melancon’s efforts had been opposed by recreational fishermen.

“I will be a uniter, not a divider, on important decisions about access to wildlife and fisheries that impact our environment and our way of life,” Montoucet said. “I understand the seriousness of the issues raised by a recent audit, and the governor and I are committed to making the necessary reforms to this agency. Businesses, recreational sportsman and every interested party will have a seat at the table and they will be treated fairly, and I am looking forward to serving the Sportsman’s Paradise.”

The department issues licenses for hunting and fishing. It is charged with supervising wildlife and aquatic life in the state.

“This single agency represents so much about our culture, and I am excited to have Jack lead it into the future,” Edwards said in a press release announcing his decision.

Montoucet, who was elected to the Louisiana House in 2008 and reelected twice more, owns Jacques’ Croc’s & Farm Pride Processors, which grows and markets alligators under a program run by the department. He is a retired fire chief from the Lafayette Fire Department.

A November audit report raised questions about missing property and millions of dollars in agency spending. For instance, Gulf oil spill recovery money intended for fish testing was used for unnecessary iPads, cameras, boats and now-missing fishing equipment, according to the Associated Press.

“I accepted your appointment in the spirit of public service without the knowledge that I would be responsible for turning around a troubled state agency,” Melancon wrote Edwards earlier this month, according to the Associated Press. “However, many of the department’s previous problems persist, driven largely by ... (a recreational fishing group) and individuals within the department.”

Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCnb.