From DC to Tackle Box Part 2 (Executive Branch and Regulation)

White House

Legislation Becomes Regulation

Once Congress has passed the final votes on an act of legislation, the document is sent to the President to be signed or rejected via veto authority. Assuming legislation is signed, the next step on the way to your tackle box is that “legislation” essentially is translated into “regulation.”

Technically, “regulations” are specific requirements placed by government upon the nation as a means of enforcing an act of legislation. In the US, this responsibility is carried out by the executive branch of government.

The office of the president has many duties, and one is to lead the executive branch of our government.  To accomplish this the president nominates and Congress confirms individuals to lead various parts of government. Collectively this group of top tier executives who report directly to the president is known as the Cabinet.

Department of Commerce

When it comes to fish and related subjects, the cabinet position of concern is the secretary of the Department of Commerce. The current Secretary of Commerce is Wilbur L. Ross Jr. It is important to realize how vast our government structure must be, even under an attitude of minimal regulation (insert sarcasm at will). Fisheries management is just a tiny portion of what falls under the Department of Commerce Organizational Chart.


As of April 1, 2017, the next executive in the US fisheries-related chain is Mr. Benjamin Friedman, deputy under secretary for Operations, who is also performing the non-exclusive duties of the under secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere. This very confusing job title is not unusual when the executive branch is transitioning to a new administration. At some point, more positions will be filled and will update this article. Within Commerce, Mr. Friedman is the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA includes six primary line offices, which include not-so-little offices such as the National Weather Service. Again, our nation is huge, and fisheries are but a small part of even NOAA.

NOAA Fisheries aka NMFS

Finally, the office of government that directly effects our favorite smelly past-time, may I introduce NOAA Fisheries.  The names NOAA Fisheries and National Marine Fisheries Service are pretty much interchangeable. Deep in the nuances of government there are some technical reasons to use one term over another, but these reasons don’t matter to even full-time advocates like myself. Just consider both the same and you will always be correct.

As mentioned prior, the executive branch is still in a normal post-election time of transition. Currently, the top executive within NOAA Fisheries is Samuel Rauch III. Mr. Rauch is the current acting administrator of Fisheries, a position he also held in 2012-2013. Many insiders would refer to Mr. Rauch as the most important individual in the nation when it comes to how US fisheries are managed. He is a career bureaucrat who has advanced through NOAA Fisheries, and he has had a significant influence on US fish policy since at least 2004. This author has both liked and not liked the agency under leadership of Mr. Rauch, which usually indicates an executive is doing his or her job.

A political appointee will eventually fill the position of administrator of Fisheries. It is well known that two candidates are being pushed by special interest groups. Generally speaking, commercial fishing industry lobbyists are pushing Chris Oliver, former executive director of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. We have heard unconfirmed rumors that the recreational fishing industry trade group, American Sportfishing Association, is said to be pushing its current vice president of government affairs, Scott Gudes.

GARFO & NEFSC is focused on fisheries in both the New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions, which basically covers Maine to Hatteras, North Carolina. All fisheries management based in these regions is covered by the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO), which is based in Gloucester, MA. The regional administrator of GARFO is former Mayor of New Bedford John Bullard.

While GARFO is the office that handles federal management of Northeast and Mid-Atlantic fisheries, the science used by management comes from different places. Most of the federal government-collected science is conducted by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center based in Woods Hole, MA.

Dr. Jonathan Hare was recently named the Science and Research director and tops the organizational chart of this not-so-small office.

What About the Council Process and ASMFC?

Here is where it all comes together. Waaaay back at the start of Part 1 of this article I covered the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. This is the nation’s primary law governing fishing. This law guides government agencies trying to balance stewardship, sustainability and economic benefit to the nation. It creates the fishery management council system, which is where most work related to management of fisheries in federal waters happens. has a section dedicated to covering the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC). The NEFMC is a  is a quasi-governmental body responsible for the conservation and management of fishery resources between three and 200 miles of the Atlantic coasts of ME, NH, MA, RI and CT. Management of some species overlaps with the MAFMC. Management actions taken by the MAFMC must be approved and formally enacted by GARFO. has a section dedicated to covering the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. The MAFMC is a quasi-governmental body responsible for the conservation and management of fishery resources between three and 200 miles of the Atlantic coasts of NY, NJ, PA, DE, MD, VA, and NC. Management of some species overlaps with the NEFMC. Management actions taken by the MAFMC must be approved and formally enacted by GARFO.

Fishery Management Authority in State Waters is dedicated to covering the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC). Since the US Constitution was signed, there have been debates and even a civil war about jurisdiction over what is governed by states vs. what is governed by the federal government. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, formed way back in the 1940s, is an interstate compact of the 15 Atlantic coastal states that manage fisheries in state waters (shore to three-mile line). Over time, the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, the Atlantic Coastal Fisheries Cooperative Management At of 1993, and the Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act combine to give specific authority to ASMFC for managing fisheries in state waters.

The real reason the team at wanted to write this article was to try, in as simple a way as possible (yeah right), to explain the link between actions by the federal government and the fisheries regulations that matter a great deal to the average citizen. We won’t bore readers with articles that really don’t matter, and so we hope our readers will pay attention to the federal fisheries section of our web site because if we’re writing about it, it’s important.