By Times Staff
A leader of a controversial Cape Cod commercial fishing organization has been named to a seat on the New England Fisheries Management Council — taking over for the same group's CEO, who has served as chairman despite questions from fishermen and industry supporters over alleged conflicts of interest.
Thomas D. Dempsey is one of two from Massachusetts named to at-large council seats by the federal Department of Commerce this week, and one of four appointments made to the New England Fishery Management Council. Commerce officials, in all, named 21 members to councils across the nation.
Dempsey, policy director for the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association and an assistant director for the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust, had topped the list of three nominees for the panel submitted to outgoing Commerce Secretary Gary Locke by Gov. Deval Patrick in March.
With the appointment, Dempsey will take the seat of John Pappalardo, who had previously served as the Cape Cod group's policy director and is now its CEO while serving as the New England council's chairman.
By selecting Dempsey, the Commerce secretary — like Patrick — chose him ahead of Stephen P. Welch, a commercial fisherman from the South Shore who lands his catch in Gloucester and New Bedford.
Welch had been the candidate nominated by the Gloucester-based Northeast Seafood Coalition, which has clashed with the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association for years based on the environmental alliances and advocacy for reduced fishing and limited gear goals endorsed by the Cape Cod group and its environmental allies.
No candidates from Gloucester were included in the nomination process; America's oldest fishing port was last represented on the New England council by Vito Calomo, who stepped down after serving his final term in 2001.
In announcing the appointments of all of the new councilors, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration fisheries chief Eric Schwaab hailed the selections, which include both returning and new members.
In addition to Dempsey, others named to the New England Council include Laura Ramsden, also of Massachusetts, Peter T. Kendall of New Hampshire and Mary Beth Nickell-Tooley of Maine.
"The individuals selected for the councils are uniquely qualified for these important positions," Schwaab said in a prepared statement. "They are the experts-fishermen and scientists, leaders in their regions-who will help us achieve sustainable fisheries and maintain vibrant fishing communities."
All the new council terms begin Aug. 11.
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service annually solicits nominations from the governors of fishing states and oversees the annual appointment process.
The Secretary of Commerce must select councilors from the list of nominees provided by the governors to fill obligatory and at-large seats that have become available due to an expiring term, a resignation or other reasons.
Obligatory seats are state-specific, while at-large seats can be filled by a person from any of the states in the region. Council members serve three-year terms, and may be reappointed to serve up to three consecutive terms.
Dempsey and Pappalardo's Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's Association has been at the forefront of NOAA's conversion to catch share management systems, which encourages fishermen to buy, sell and trade their "shares" of an allocated catch for each stock among one another, or deal with larger companies and outside investors.
Under Pappalardo's leadership, and under a push from NOAA chief administrator Jane Lubchenco, the New England council rammed through a catch share system for New England in June 2009, and the program began in May 2010.
But data from the first year is already showing a bartered and greater concentration of catch quota and landings among larger boats and companies, while smaller, independent boats — such as those that dominate the Gloucester fleet — have found it hard to compete.
In the meantime, the Cape Cod Hook Fishermen's group has come under fire for getting an added boost in allocation from Pappalardo's council.
That allocation for the Cape Cod group — which has received financial and other support from the Environmental Defense Fund, the primary backer of catch shares — is among the targets of a federal lawsuit filed by the cities of Gloucester and New Bedford and a variety of fishing interests, challenging catch shares and New England's entire Amendment 16 and catch share regulatory framework.