The New England Fishery Management Council’s long-awaited final deliberations on its habitat amendment got off to a rocky start Wednesday, when one council member was barred from voting because of potential financial conflicts and questions were raised about possible conflicts involving another member.

Mary Beth Nickell-Tooley, an at-large member from Maine since 2008, was informed Wednesday by NOAA Attorney Adviser Mitch MacDonald she “may not vote during the Council’s final deliberations on Habitat Amendment alternatives that open or close areas to fishing nor on the final vote to approve the Habitat Amendment for submission to NMFS.”

MacDonald’s opinion, which reversed an earlier opinion allowing her to vote on all habitat issues, was based on additional information furnished by Nickell-Tooley concerning an oral agreement to provide consulting services through her present business, Sustainable Harvest Consulting, to her former employer, O’Hara Corp.

“The Council decisions on opening or closing fishing areas to scallop fishing in the Habitat Amendment will have a quantifiable effect on O’Hara Corporation’s financial interests in the harvest of scallops,” MacDonald wrote in a letter to Nickell-Tooley.

MacDonald’s determination of a possible conflict forced Nickell-Tooley to recuse herself from voting on all habitat motions today and Thursday, as well as the final vote on the amendment as a whole, which is expected Thursday.

She was allowed, however, to comment on issues and motions that came before the council.

Nickell-Tooley said that while she may not agree with MacDonald’s opinion, she would abide by it. She did not say whether she would seek a review of MacDonald’s determination by NOAA’s general counsel within 10 days, as is her right.

O’Hara, according to Nickell-Tooley’s biography on the NEFMC website, is a Rockland-based, “family-owned company with diverse fisheries interest from the North Atlantic to the Bering Sea.”

The O’Hara company website said the company, through its Eastern Fisheries, operates 25 scallop vessels and three waterfront plants in New Bedford, as well as a processing operation in Asia.

The company also owns and operates two Atlantic herring vessels out of Rockland.

Nickell-Tooley’s recusal served as a backdrop for another inquiry from Robert Vanasse, who operates the Saving Seafood website, whether council member John Pappalardo should have received a similar order for recusal.

Vanasse based his question on the partnership among the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance, where Pappalardo is CEO, and the Conservation Law Foundation and Nature Conservancy environmental groups.

“In 2007, the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (now the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance) of which Mr. Pappalardo is CEO, created the Cape Cod Fisheries Trust in order to lease permits to fishermen under the new sector system,” Vanasse wrote in an email to NOAA spokewoman Jennifer Goebel. “Both CLF Ventures (a division of the Conservation Law Foundation) and the Nature Conservancy announced they were partnering with the CCCFA to create the Trust.”

Vanasse questioned whether potential benefits for CCCFA stemming from the vote on the habitat amendment could result in a conflict and whether “the financials of Council members employed in the nonprofit sector such as academia who receive grants and funding from organizations with stated positions on [the Habitat Amendment 2] been examined for potential benefit from their vote in the same way that financials of Council members employed in the for-profit fisheries have?”

Goebel responded with an answer from MacDonald: “Our office is not aware of any financial disclosure information submitted by John Pappalardo that discloses financial interests that would require his recusal.”

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT and check out his blog, Glosta Daily, on

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