Ways to Get Involved in the Council Process

Many members of the fishing community and the public don’t have the time or resources to attend Council meetings. Fortunately, there are other ways to get without leaving home. Many of the 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. Learn what terms and acronyms like “CPUE” and “optimum yield” mean (see frequently used acronyms). Remember, knowledge is power. The more you know the greater your level of confidence and the more valuable your input.

Ways to learn

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? See testimony example.

Get to know someone:

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

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.

Attend a meeting:

All regular Council meetings, committee meetings and advisory panel meetings are open to the public. Council meetings include a section 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 Gulf coast and public comment summaries are provided to Council members for review and consideration. For dates and the locations of upcoming meetings, click here.

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. Because of time constraints, public comment is limited to three minutes for individuals and five minutes for representatives of groups.  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. Sign-up cards are provided at the entrance of the meeting room for people who wish to address the Council. For more tips, See testimony example.

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. See sample letter.

Tips for writing the Council

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • State your opinion. Then state why you have that opinion. Be explicit. Don’t leave the reader guessing your meaning.
  • 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 Southeast Region of NMFS.

Serve:

Interested citizens may serve on panels or committees. If you are interested in serving, talk to the Executive Director and the key staff person for the fishery in which you are interested.