Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission Celebrates its 60th Anniversary

On June 16, the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission (MFAC) celebrated its 60th anniversary with a social gathering on the grounds of the Division’s New Bedford facility. With DMF staff and current and former Commission members in attendance, the event commemorated the six-decade history of the MFAC. To top of the event, the Commission bestowed the David L. Belding Award to former MFAC Chair, Mark Amorello.

The Commission was first formed in 1960 when then-Governor Foster Furcolo created through Executive Order an ad-hoc group called the Marine Fisheries Advisory Commission to address problems in marine fisheries. After holding a series of public hearings to gather stakeholder input, the Commission presented an extensive report to the Governor outlining the challenges of the day and including a suite of well- recommendations. This report is historic in its depiction of the marine fisheries landscape of the time. Problems of foreign vessels fishing three miles from shore were highlighted along with familiar group conflicts (e.g., recreational vs. commercial, draggers vs. lobstermen, and lobstermen vs. “skin divers”), need for fish and shellfish conservation and improved management approaches.

One of the most important recommendations was to make the Commission a permanent body to continue its work. The MFAC also recommended more administrative control over fisheries rules. (Legislative amendments to fishing rules was considered too slow and unpredictable.) Subsequently, the Commission was created by the state legislature as a permanent entity in 1962 and was tasked with approval authority for rule changes made by the Director as well as overseeing the hiring and removal of the Director. The Commission’s vision for an unpaid “nonpolitical body whereby the different interests on the salt water could get together in advance on matters affecting their sport and livelihood” has succeeded for the past 60 years.

Today’s Commission spends substantial time assisting DMF to address conservation and management issues that involve co-management with NOAA Fisheries through the New England and Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Councils and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission. There are management plans and committees for so many species that were completely unmanaged back in 1960s, and many were labeled “trash fish” due to a lack of commercial markets. Just as the original Commission consisted of various interests involved with fisheries, today’s Commission also reflects a balanced and varied cross-section of stakeholders. Each brings their experience and perspective to the table and contribute their views to Commission debates that in the end help make DMF a more responsive and aware agency.

The Anniversary event featured short tributes from former MFAC Chairs: Elizabeth Stromeyer who served in the 1970s and 80s; Frank Mirarchi, who served in the 1970s through early 1990s; and Mark Amorello who served for 25 years from 1992 through 2016. Mark was also awarded the David L. Belding Award for his years of service to the Commission and for his outstanding work restoring river herring populations in his role as Superintendent of the Pembroke Herring Fisheries Commission.

During his decade of leadership in his home community, Mark worked with DMF to accomplish extensive brook-wide maintenance and fishway improvement efforts, as well as the installation of electronic fish counters. Mark can rightfully take credit for helping to improve the run counts in Herring Brook in Pembroke, because as a result of these efforts, Herring Brook has been able to witness and document fish passage increases from tens of thousands per year to hundreds of thousands per year. His most recent efforts in the Herring Brook watershed involved the rehabilitation of Herring Brook Park, with associated improvements to fish passage incorporating a historic look with a replica water wheel and granite block walls that has been attracting the public for viewing ever since.

It was extremely rewarding for all involved to recognize the Commission’s contributions to fisheries management. While the issues have evolved over six decades, the function of this Commission as a set of diverse experts advising DMF is as relevant today as it was in 1962. And recognizing Mark Amorello for being one of its most dedicated members for his 25 years of service—almost half of the history of the Commission—was a perfect ending to the celebration.

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