Getting Involved in Fisheries Management

Members of the fishing community and the public often don’t have the time or resources to attend Council meetings, but there are a number of ways to participate and stay informed without leaving home. Many of suggestions below come from the publication Fish or Cut Bait, a guide to fisheries management written by anthropologists Bonnie McCay and Carolyn Creed (1999). You may also want to download a copy of Navigating the Council Process.

Learn

The first step to getting involved in the Council process is to learn about it. Learn how the Council system operates; learn the background of the problem in which you are interested. Learn how Council members see things, and why. Remember, knowledge is power. The more you know the greater your level of confidence and the more valuable your input.  These are just a few tips for learning about the Council process and Mid-Atlantic fisheries.

Browse our website  

We post all news and updates related to our fisheries and upcoming meetings on our website.   

  • Check out other pages on our website.  Staying informed about what other organizations are doing will help you to become more effectively involved with the Council.
  • Get on our email list. The Council maintains extensive mailing lists of organizations and individuals who wish to receive meeting notices, agendas, newsletters, statistical documents, FMPs and proposed regulations. 
  • Read our meeting reports to learn about recent issues and decisions.
  • Read other resources about how fisheries management works.  A few helpful resources include: Understanding fisheries management and publication Fish or Cut Bait are two excellent sources targeted to the fishing community.
  • Attend Council, committee or advisory panel meetings.  Upcoming meetings are listed here.
  • Ask us!  Call the Council Staff if you have a question or you can’t find the information you’re looking for. 

Join a group

Groups are organized around different issues and interests. For example, environmental issues, fishing gear types, fisheries, communities, and other interests. There are also groups that cut across interests and gear types. Join a group that represents your interests. If you can’t find a group, create one. Joining a group will give you a greater voice, more motivation, and a larger pool of knowledge to draw from.

Make informed comments

Your comments will be most effective if they show that you know about the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the “National Standards” used to evaluate fishery management plans. Try to frame your comments and objections in these terms. Whether writing or testifying, make sure that your comments are relevant to whatever the Council is discussing at the moment. Know what stage of the process the Council is in. For example, are there important deadlines approaching? What political pressures are influencing this decision? 

Get to Know Council Members and Staff

Getting to know someone is one of the best ways to make sure your voice is heard. Get to know Council members from your state, other Council members, Committee members, and staff.  

Helpful Links:

Talk informally:

One of the best ways to interact with the Council is simply to call a Council member or staff person. This type of contact provides a more personal way to discuss issues that concern or interest you. When calling, explain who you are, what your question or problem is, and ask for help in understanding what’s going on. Ask for a list of the committees and key council members responsible for your fishery, and ask whom you should call to get more background or advice. You can also speak at meetings and hearings, in the halls during meetings, or at the Council offices. Be sure to attend informal events associated with Council meetings. You may also want to speak with state agency staff and your state and federal representatives.

How to Comment on a Specific Issue

Stay Informed About Opportunities for Public Comment

You can find Federal Register notices for the Greater Atlantic Region HERE, and they have an email update option on that page also.  You can also get notices direct from the Federal Register by signing up at https://www.federalregister.gov/my/sign_up and then clicking on the subscribe feature at the NOAA page.

Attend a meeting:

All regular Council meetings, committee meetings and advisory panel meetings are open to the public. Council meetings always include time for public testimony regarding issues on the agenda, as well as an open public comment section for those interested in speaking about general fishery issues. Council meetings and public hearings are held throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and public comment summaries are provided to Council members for review and consideration. 

Testify:

Members of the commercial and recreational fishery, the environmental community, and the public are encouraged to testify at Council meetings and hearings. This involves speaking in a formal public forum. At Council meetings, the Council members and staff generally sit in a “U” formation and everyone else sits in chairs at one end of the room. You will have to walk up to a microphone to make your comments. If comments are supplied to the Council two weeks before the meeting date, they are included in the packet of information (called a Briefing Book) that is distributed to each Council member at least a week before the Council meeting.

It is best to be well prepared and as calm as possible when providing testimony. Read up on Council decisions related to your topic of interest and make sure that your comments are organized and relevant. 

Write:

The Council is very much interested in hearing your opinions and comments on current management issues. Council members read and consider all letters and emails that arrive prior the briefing book deadline, two weeks before a Council meeting.  Generally, letters are addressed to the Council Chair or the Executive Director. However, depending on the situation and the stage of the decision-making process, you may write letters or emails to a specific Council member, the Regional Director of NMFS, or others. 

Tips for writing the Council

  1. Keep it short. When writing, a one page letter is best. If it's too long you run the risk that key points may be overlooked.
  2.  Stick to one subject. If you are writing concerning on a Plan Amendment that addresses a number of issues, it's okay to comment on all the issues in one letter. However, writing about separate issues, it’s best to write separate letters.
  3.  State your background at the beginning. Are you a recreational fishermen, commercial fisherman, marine scientist, etc.? If you are representing a group, tell us the name of the group and how large the membership is.
  4. State your opinion. Then state why you have that opinion. Be explicit. Don’t leave the reader guessing your meaning.
  5.  Make sure your letter is legible. If the reader has to decipher handwriting, it will detract from the message. A typed or printed letter is best. You may also write letters to trade magazines such as the Florida Sportsman, which many managers read. Since the National Marine Fisheries Service reviews all Council decisions, it is also effective to write or call the Northeast Region of NMFS.

WHEN do I make a public comment?

There are 5 phases of Fishery Management Plans and Amendment development.  Understanding these steps and knowing how you can get involved in each will help you to make more effective comments.

  1. Scoping: During the scoping process, the Council gathers suggestions and ideas from stakeholders and others about how to solve a fishery problem or address a need. The Goal of scoping is to identify issues, potential impacts, and reasonable alternatives associated with the issues at hand so that reasonable management actions and alternatives can be developed.
  2. Public Hearing: The Council holds public hearings after identifying management options that can potentially solve a fishery issue. The purpose of public hearings is to gather feedback on potential impacts of the proposed alternatives and to suggest other possible alternatives as appropriate.
  3. Final Action: After the public has had an opportunity to comment on proposed management actions, the Council takes final action by choosing an appropriate management strategy. Final action occurs publicly, during a Council meeting, after one last opportunity for public input. The Council then votes to forward the fishery management plan or amendment to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval and implementation.
  4. Rule Making: When the Council takes final action on a fishery management plan or amendment, it also deems a proposed rule to be necessary and appropriate to implement the actions in the fishery management plan or amendment and sends it to the Secretary of Commerce. The secretary opens 15 -60 day public comment period before deciding whether to approve, partially approve, or disapprove the proposed measure.
  5. Implementation: After a fishery management plan or amendment is approved by the Secretary of Commerce, a final rule is published in the Federal Register implementing the management actions.