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NCFA leader stepping down

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Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 9:02 am | Updated: 9:04 am, Wed Sep 11, 2013.

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.”

  • Discuss

Welcome to the discussion.


  • francis posted at 9:20 am on Fri, Sep 27, 2013.

    francis Posts: 2364

    Just more wasted taxpayer money for a made up crisis. Guess folks on the public payroll have to do something. The last time a bottle nosed dolphin was killed in a net, set from our beach was when? The only reference I could find was back in 1995 when some were entangled in a large shark gill net somewhere on the south east coast near Fla. The last time large mesh gill nets were used to catch sharks in local waters was when?

    They do this stuff all the time in other countries and it gives the Rainbow Warrior folks something to do while they patrol the high seas in search of a purpose in life. Haven't seen any sign of them around here. Must not be any real problems.

  • John posted at 8:24 am on Fri, Sep 27, 2013.

    John Posts: 132

    Thank you for leaving Mr McKeon, But this news is even better!!! ( Gill net fishermen along most of the North Carolina coast received a setback – literally and figuratively – from regulations that become effective Sept. 15 that will require small-mesh gill nets to be set a minimum of 100 yards from the beach to protect bottlenose dolphins.
    Dr. Louis Daniel, director of the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries, issued a proclamation on Sept. 10 setting the new regulations, which cover the North Carolina coastline except in an area from Cape Lookout to Bogue Inlet and an area from Carolina Beach inlet to the South Carolina state line.
    According to Chris Batsavage, a DMF biologist, the exempted beaches are historically home to gill net fisheries for sea mullet, spots and several other species that are seasonal and the exemption was to allow these fisheries to continue.
    “This has progressed from early in the summer when it was first discussed by the (National Marine Fisheries Service),” Batsavage said. “We asked for the exemptions for our traditional areas, and they were granted for three years. However, these exemptions may be rescinded immediately if there is a single interaction with a bottlenose dolphin, and those areas will be monitored heavily.”
    Data collected for several years by NMFS Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Teams indicated that small-mesh gill nets continue to seriously injure and kill bottlenose dolphin at levels higher than allowed by a federal plan to reduce those interactions. That is the basis for moving nets a minimum of 100 yards offshore.
    “The setback restriction is for monofilament gill nets,” Batsavage said. “This includes all commercial and recreational gill nets that are set. The restriction does not apply to stop nets and multifilament seine nets. It also does not apply to monofilament strike nets used to surround a school of fish and immediately retrieve the catch.) But to hear all the commercial fishermen talk the gillnets dont kill anything! No turtles or dolphin or unwanted fish eather!! WOW SOMEONE IS LYING! I wonder who??? These nets should have been stoped years ago. But the truth is coming out slowly but it is coming. Thats why the changes!!! And the comm, Fishermen Know it is! It cant happn soon enough here in NC!


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