Did You Know?

Do Special Interests Control Fisheries Management?

MYTH: The New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC) is controlled by the environmental community.

TRUTH: Fishing interests dominate the Council.

Last week, a “Dear Colleague” letter and hearing request to the Committee on Natural Resources were sent out by The Honorable John L. Mica (R-FL) in reference to the nation’s primary fishing law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The letter stated:

“Unfortunately, it seems that certain groups have “high-jacked” the guiding principles behind the management of the fisheries and these modifications have been used to stifle the voice of those who actually fish the waters, rather than get them more involved in the management of the fisheries.”

Let’s look at the New England Fishery Management Council. It turns out that fishing interests (commercial and recreational) have more voting power on the New England council than any other group, holding 55% of the votes. Commercial fishing alone accounts for 44% of the council, and this is the single largest category of voting members. By comparison, the environmental community holds only one seat on the council, or 6% of the voting power. It is popular to assert that the council process is dominated by the environmental crowd, but this myth is just not supported by the numbers.

Some contend that council chairman John Pappalardo, who is CEO of the commercial fishing group, the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association, uses his power to sway the council to make decisions that benefit his organization’s fishermen. Chairman Pappalardo, however, rarely exercises his right to vote.

Another popular complaint is that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) controls fisheries decision-making in New England. If domination by the enviros goes down in flames, this one about NMFS goes up in a puff of smoke. NMFS only holds one vote on the council and under the law can only approve or disapprove fishery management actions passed by the council. Furthermore, it does not have the authority to revise the council’s proposed management actions. Only proposed actions that are in violation of federal law are disapproved.

The fact is, the process of making fisheries regulations is open, public, transparent and heavily influenced by the large number of voting members representing the commercial and recreational fishing industries. Here is the breakdown:

The Council is currently organized as follows (see financial disclosure statements here):


•             Terry Stockwell, State of Maine representative
•             Glen Libby, commercial fisherman, Midcoast Fishermen’s Association
•             Mary Beth Tooley, corporate fishing industry representative, Sustainable Fisheries Coalition
•             James Odlin, owner, commercial groundfish fleet

New Hampshire

•             Doug Grout, State of New Hampshire representative
•             Michael Leary, commercial fisherman
•             David Goethel, commercial fisherman


•             David Pierce, State of Massachusetts representative
•             Rip Cunningham, recreational fisherman
•             Jim Fair, former Mass. Division of Marine Fisheries representative
•             Rodney Avilla, owner, commercial groundfish fleet
•             John Pappalardo, commercial fisherman, CEO, Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association

Rhode Island

•             Mark Gibson, State of Rhode Island representative
•             Frank Blount, owner, head boat (recreational) fleet
•             David Preble, retired commercial fisherman and charter boat captain


•             David Simpson, State of Connecticut representative
•             Sally McGee, The Nature Conservancy


•             Pat Kurkul, Northeast Regional Administrator

The tally:
10 fishing interests
6 government reps
1 retired fishery manager
1 environmental organization rep



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