Why Get Involved?
Many groups are concerned about fisheries, including commercial and recreational fishermen and their families, environmentalists, consumers, scientists, restaurant owners, chefs, the tourism industry, and local communities. Whatever their background or motivation, these groups share the common desire to ensure the health of fish populations and the marine ecosystems they depend on.
If you are a member of the commercial fishing community, a seafood dealer, restaurant owner, or if your business serves recreational fishermen, the best reason to get involved is because this is a process that directly affects your livelihood. You may not have control over the weather, ocean conditions, or market prices, but if you get involved in the Council process you can have input into the decisions that affect your business.
Getting involved means commitment and hard work. It may mean reading documents, talking to people you don't know, going to meetings, speaking in public, writing letters or emails, joining or forming an association, or joining an advisory panel.
Will it really make a difference?
The Council process is designed to incorporate public input. Your influence on Council decisions is related to the amount of energy you put into being involved. Involvement can range from sending an email comment to serving on an advisory panel. No matter what level of involvement you choose, your views will have more weight and influence if you learn about the context of the decisions being made, the timeline for the decision making process, and the best ways to communicate with Council members and advisory panel members.
We often hear from the public that they simply don't have time to attend a week-long meeting or even a public hearing. If you are reading this, you already have access to several ways to take action from where you stand right now.
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 South Atlantic fisheries.
Browse Our Website
You will find a wealth of information right at your fingertips.
- Look over the homepage to access resources to help you get acquainted with issues currently being addressed by the Council.
- Read the Council's newsletter, the South Atlantic Update for a quick overview of current issues.
- Subscribe to receive email updates, including meeting notices, news releases, and other bulletins.
- Learn more about your area Council representatives and how to contact them. See who serves on the Council's Advisory Panels and their role in making recommendations.
- See what topics are being discussed at Council meetings and browse through the briefing book materials. Don't worry if it seems a bit overwhelming at first. Check out the committee agendas and overviews as a starting point.
- Know what species are managed by the Council - and what is not. Take a look at the list of Fishery Management Plans and Plan Amendments. There's a lot of history here.
- Familiarize yourself with current regulations on the Regulations and Fish ID page and download your free Fish Rules mobile app.
- Tune-In Online
You can follow the Council meetings online as they occur via webinar (link to Council meeting page with webinar information). Simply sign up prior to the meeting and follow the instructions. You'll see the same presentations as the participants in the meeting room. The same is true for meetings of the Scientific and Statistical Committee and most advisory panel meetings.
Informal Q&A Sessions (link to public hearing page) are also held online prior to public hearings.
- Get Social
Follow the Council on Facebook to access the latest information from the Council office and see what others are saying about management issues. Don't forget to "Like" us to follow Council posts on your News Feed. Follow us on Twitter too - information is just a Tweet away - @safmc. Also follow us on Instagram (@southatlanticcouncil) and YouTube (SAFMC).
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 Someone - Talk Informally
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. One of the best ways to interact with the Council is simply to call a Council member or staff person 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. Familiarize yourself with the various Council 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 office. 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 and meetings of the Council's Scientific and Statistical Committee (link to SSC page) include a designated time for public testimony regarding issues on the agenda. There is also an informal Q&A session held one evening during the Council meeting week. Public hearings (link to Public Hearing page) are held periodically throughout the South Atlantic coast. All public comments are provided to Council members for review and consideration. Check the Meeting Calendar for dates and the locations of upcoming meetings.
Members of the public are encouraged to testify at Council meetings and hearings. At Council meetings, the Council members generally s it 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 sometimes limited to three minutes, depending upon the number of people that wish to speak. 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. The format at public hearings is less formal, with Council staff present to help answer your questions and discuss issues. Microphones are still used to capture your testimony.
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. Written comments are accepted on specific amendments as they are developed during the management process. Specific email addresses are designated for submitting written comments during the open public comment periods. Tips for writing the Council.
Apply to serve on one of the Council's advisory panels. If you are interested in serving, contact Kim Iverson, Public Information Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for news releases periodically advertising open seats.
(Many of the actions above were taken from an earlier publication "Fish or Cut Bait" (1999) by anthropologist Dr. Bonnie McCay and Carolyn Creed)