Feature: Meet the Latest Members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council

September 1, 2021

Three newly appointed members of the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council will join discussions and provide input on management decisions when the Council convenes September 13-17, 2021,  for their quarterly week-long meeting. The meeting will be held via webinar due to COVID-19 and public health concerns.

Each year the U.S. Secretary of Commerce appoints new members to the eight regional fishery management councils as needed. The Secretary selects members from nominations submitted by the governors of fishing states, territories, and tribal governments. Council members are appointed to both state-specific and regional seats – also known as obligatory and at-large seats. Council members serve a three-year term and may be reappointed to serve three consecutive terms. In addition to the new members appointed to the South Atlantic Council, Spud Woodward, an At-Large member of the Council from Brunswick, Georgia was reappointed to a second term.


Captain Judy Helmey

(Obligatory Seat)

Savannah, GA

Captain Judy Helmey is the owner of Miss Judy Fishing Charters, a family business operating for over 50 years in the Savannah and Tybee Island, Georgia area. As the owner and manager of the company, she oversees an experienced group of charter captains operating ten boats that offer inshore, offshore and Gulf Stream charter fishing trips. Captain Judy is also an accomplished writer and columnist and runs an annual fishing school.

Captain Judy, 28, with her Dad and mentor, Captain Sherman Helmey. The photo was taken at his birthday party. She recalls giving him a set of screwdrivers since he was notorious for throwing tools overboard when repairs didn't go just right!

Judy grew up fishing with her father, Captain Sherman Helmey, and began working in the charter business at the age of 13, later becoming the youngest licensed charter captain in Georgia at 18 years old. Her close relationship with her father as a single parent shaped her appreciation for the natural world and fisheries. She often writes about her experiences growing up along the Georgia coast learning many life lessons from her Dad, a colorful character, and their unforgettable customers.

“I have been involved in the fishing industry my entire childhood and adult life,” said Captain Judy. “Being raised by a single parent, who was an avid fisherman and accomplished charter boat captain in the 1950s laid the groundwork that prepared me for the fishing industry.”

Judy was previously appointed to the Council’s Snapper Grouper Advisory Panel and has served as a panelist for federal and state conferences concerning wildlife and fisheries management policy. She holds eight state fishing records and two world record catches.

“I am one of the lucky ones who has seen the fisheries at their best and some that have collapsed. I know a little bit of management can and did go a long way, but also know there is always room for improvement,” explained Captain Judy.  “I am sincerely honored to have been selected to serve on the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council.”



Captain Tom Roller

(At-Large Seat)

Beaufort, NC

“Being a professional guide is being a steward of the incredible fisheries we participate in,” explained Captain Tom Roller, a newly appointed at-large member of the Council and the owner of WaterDog Guide Service, a charter fishing company in Beaufort, North Carolina.

With over 17 years of experience as a fishing guide, Tom has practiced his philosophy of stewardship throughout his career. Until his appointment to the Council, he served as a member of the Council’s Mackerel Cobia Advisory Panel and has been involved in the Council’s Citizen Science Program as part of the Outreach and Communications Action Team and the Council’s System Management Plan Workgroup. He is also currently a member of the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission.

“I started Waterdog Guide Service after graduating from Duke University in 2003,” said Tom. “My love of the outdoors coupled with my interest in fishery science and the health and future of our fisheries has led me to get involved in the fishery management process.” His involvement includes working with fisheries at both the state and federal level. “North Carolina offers so many opportunities with relatively easy access to federal fisheries and diverse opportunities in state waters. My business involves both and I have a good perspective on how these are connected,” said Tom. “I’ve always been interested in diversity and abundance. I think healthy fisheries take care of fishermen and I am excited for the opportunity to seve on the Council.”

Laurilee Thompson

(Obligatory Seat)

Mims, FL

Laurilee Thompson is the co-owner of Dixie Crossroads, Inc., a southern seafood restaurant in Titusville, Florida with international name recognition and a menu that features locally caught seafood. As part of the Space Coast, Laurilee explained, “We’ve been frequented by astronauts, celebrities, and lots of tourists” for nearly 40 years. “Our message has always been to buy American seafood to support American fishermen.”

Laurilee’s background includes decades of involvement in commercial fishing and environmental advocacy. She started as a teenager running blue crab traps and gill-netting for mullet in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon and working on the back deck of a rock shrimp trawler.  “At 15, I figured out the best way to eat rock shrimp was to split them open and broil them like lobster,” said Laurilee. That led to a kitchen full of teenagers with steak knives cutting through the tough shells and selling the rock shrimp at local bar and grill establishments along the Indian River Lagoon. “Rock shrimp were first served commercially in bars, not restaurants.”

As the captain of the 65' F/V Mary Jean, Laurilee Thompson was one of the first captains to longline for bottom fish in the Gulf of Mexico. This photo was take in 1982, 140 miles west of Ft. Meyers.

After receiving a degree in Oceanographic Technology from Florida Institute of Technology in 1974, she captained a commercial long-line boat targeting swordfish and tuna in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. In the early 1980s, she was a pioneer in the Gulf of Mexico bottom longline grouper fishing industry and experienced first-hand what happens when overfishing occurs. In 1987 she went to work in her family's seafood restaurant where she remains involved today.

“In the 1980s I worked with Dad to encourage the rock shrimp industry to accept the establishment of a deepwater Habitat Area of Particular Concern to protect Oculina coral and limited entry for the rock shrimp fishery,” said Laurilee. Her father, Rodney Thompson, was a pioneer in the fishery. “Dad worked closely with the Council to make that a reality.”

Laurilee at the helm

With her experience in the fishing industry, Laurilee was an active member of the Council’s Deepwater Shrimp Advisory Panel from 2008 until 2020. Her environmental advocacy is also evident in the many ways she serves, including as a Trustee for the Hubbs Sea World Research Institute and the University of Central Florida National Center for Coastal Research, and through her involvement in several efforts to help protect the Indian River Lagoon, an important habitat for marine species. Laurilee is the founder and a driving force behind the highly successful Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival, one of the nation’s top events of its type.

Laurilee and her family continue to be advocates to keep the American commercial fishing industry healthy. She explained that over the years she has become more sensitive to the environment than in her youth. “The horrific decline of the once productive Indian River Lagoon has led me to spend my spare time working on seagrass restoration and serving on several environmental boards.  I look forward to serving as a member of the South Atlantic Council.”

Photo Credits: Many thanks to the individual Council members for providing photos used in this article.