After more than eight years at the helm of the N.C. Fisheries Association, the state’s largest trade and lobbying group for commercial fishermen, Sean McKeon has resigned.
McKeon said his resignation as president of the organization, tendered last month, takes effect at the end of this month.
The board of directors and members of the Bayboro-based association will meet in mid-October and are expected to elect new board members, who would be responsible for hiring a successor to MeKeon.
The resignation, which McKeon conceded “was not by choice,” comes on the heels of a July special NCFA meeting in which the dissolution of the more than 60-year-old organization had been rumored, but did not take place.
In addition, McKeon’s departure follows closely a busy summer in which NCFA and others in the commercial fishing industry fought off state legislation to declare striped bass, red drum and speckled trout – game fish – off limits to commercial sale and harvest and a separate petition, to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission, that would have essentially banned shrimp trawling in the state’s inshore waters.
Those issues are likely to continue to pose threats to commercial watermen; the game fish bill didn’t advance but isn’t dead, and there are rumors that shrimp trawling opponents will take legal action or will seek legislative action next year. If those issues do resurface in 2014, commercial fishermen will face them without the man who has headed their largest and historically most effective organization.
McKeon followed an 18-year NCFA presidential run by Jerry Schill, who resigned to move to Pennsylvania but now lives again in New Bern, which was the home of NCFA for most of its existence before a recent move to Pamlico County.
Schill aided the commercial watermen this summer in the shrimp petition fight, serving as head of an ad hoc group known as Shrimp Defense. There have been rumors – even before McKenna resigned – that Schill might go back to his old job.
But Schill said he’s happy in his current position as president of The Staff House Maternity Home, a New Bern nonprofit that provides safe haven, care and support to young pregnant women who are in need due to homelessness, abuse or neglect.
McKeon said lack of financial support for NCFA in recent years was one factor that led to problems that resulted in his reluctant resignation.
“It just hasn’t been there in recent years,” he said of the money. “The same few people have been providing most of the support and going to the meetings and doing most of the work for years, and they are getting older and that just hasn’t been enough.”
Others, however, have said the decision to part ways with McKeon was largely a result of the president’s “style” – some saw him as “remote” and sometimes “absent” – and apparent inability to help generate the money he said was needed.
At any rate, McKeon said he hopes NCFA can reorganize successfully, come up with needed funds and continue doing its important work.
“It’s been around 61 years and has done a good job,” he said. “There have been only two presidents in roughly the last 30 years, and that says a lot. Without NCFA, there was really nothing standing (in the way of) the game fish bill, this shrimp petition and a (commercial) net ban.
“That hasn’t been because of me. It’s been because some very good people worked very hard. I hope that whatever happens, NCFA will continue to be a professional organization, not just part-time crisis-response.
“The fishermen need a voice, a strong professional voice, in Raleigh and in Washington, because the people who oppose commercial fishing in North Carolina’s waters aren’t going to go away.”
Schill agreed, and said he had agreed to help NCFA during the reorganization process – getting new bylaws adopted and forming a new board – and would help the organization on an “as-needed” basis. He also said he had worked behind the scenes to try to keep NCFA alive this past summer when its dissolution seemed likely.
“It has been an effective organization and it does have a 61-year history and a lot of good and important relationships,” he said. “This was not the time for it to dissolve.”
The NCFA, he added, does need to reorganize and re-energize, possibly with a smaller board of directors.
Whoever takes McKeon’s place will have a big job, Schill added.
“Being president of it is a difficult job, though. It is not a 40-hour a week job, or even a 60-hour a week job. It is really at least two jobs; there’s the administrative side, and there’s the government affairs/lobbying side.”
McKeon wished NCFA well.
“I’ll be here until the end of the month, tying up loose ends, and after I’m gone, I will be available if anyone needs to talk to me,” McKeon continued. “I wish everyone well. I’ve made a lot of friends, met a lot of awesome people I will be friends with the rest of my life.
“I do feel sad about leaving. But I hope NCFA gets new blood and new energy, some younger people. It’s important.”