By Doreen Leggett
“One Fish, Two Fish … John’s Wish, You Fish!”
That bumper sticker, with two codfish bracketing the words ‘Pappalardo for Council,’ was created almost 20 years ago.
A lot has changed since then. But Pappalardo’s wish hasn’t.
“Protecting a tradition, a resource and a way of life was central to why I wanted a seat on the council,” Pappalardo said. “The management process can be arcane and even maddening at times. But that big-picture effort to make sure small boat fishermen continue to succeed colors everything I do.”
This June, Pappalardo was appointed to his third consecutive three-year term on the council, and before a hiatus had served three other terms, five years as chair. The council sits at the top of a pyramid that creates federal fisheries policy in the Northeast, sending its recommendations to the Department of Commerce for implementation.
“His work with Cape Cod fishermen has shown him that an engaged industry and community is capable of making decisions that forgo short-term gain in favor of long-term stability,” read his nomination letter from Governor Charlie Baker.
Small boats fleets require vastly different approaches from large ones. But when Pappalardo first ran for the council, it seemed possible that there would be no representation from the Cape commercial sector.
An active campaign unfolded, hence the bumper sticker, and he was supported by many, including boards of selectmen and the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce.
The groundswell helped land him the seat and the connection between the wider community and the Cape’s fishing fleet remains strong. One of the council’s recent accomplishments, affording forage fish like herring greater protections, was also supported by the community.
Pappalardo is proud of that achievement, among others. Since the Cape is made of many ports, each with its own personality, each full of personalities, he has to understand varied needs and interests.
Fishermen are often calling Pappalardo, or stopping into his Chatham office pre-COVID, to talk about what is working and what isn’t. The vast majority of boats on the Cape are owner-operated, unlike larger ports such as New Bedford. So the captains have a strong vested interest.
Pappalardo, a summer kid from Connecticut who moved to the Cape full time in his 20s, worked as a commercial fisherman not long after the Cape Cod Commercial Hook Fishermen’s Association (now the Fishermen’s Alliance) first began around 1991. Salaries were nominal so while he worked on policy for the non-profit, fishing made up the bulk of his income.
Sometimes it’s not easy to get a commercial fisherman, grassroots fisheries advocate and marine policy analyst in the same room, but in Pappalardo they co-exist.
“He keeps us plugged into what’s happening in the governmental and regulatory process,” said Captain Nick Muto of Orleans. “I think it’s important we have a representative seat at the table who can pass on our vision.”
Just before the July 4 holiday, Pappalardo spent 34 hours over three days on Zoom meetings when the council convened. He estimates he spends close to 110 days a year on council business.
Using science to drive policy decisions is a tremendous change from old times, he said. In 2008, as the result of a lawsuit, agencies were required to set catch limits, fish stock by fish stock, based on surveys.
And now “we’re right in the middle of a big shift in climate,” said Pappalardo. “There is a fog over everything.”
When he first got on the council he pushed for ecosystem-based fisheries management, which takes into account how species in a region interact with one another – not just humans. Georges Bank would be managed holistically, instead of as seven individual stocks.
After close to a dozen years, and being appointed as chairman of the EBFM subcommittee, the council is on the verge of completing a pilot for Georges Bank and bringing it out for public comment.
Much of the council’s work takes years to achieve.
“Sure I get frustrated,” he said, “because I believe the results would occur faster if decisions were made and enacted. But important decisions take longer. There are a lot of voices to hear from. Businesses as well as the environment need to be protected.”
Another long-term goal, said Pappalardo, is to ensure that the future of fisheries looks sustainable and stable. Over the years he has pushed for greater accountability and cameras on boats to support fishermen’s experience on the water and improve science, which leads to better business plans and sustainable fisheries.
Only recently he has seen his advocacy of electronic monitoring taken up by others who now see its value.
A pandemic-caused delay, or cancellation, of government survey work that feeds into management decisions has been a point of contention for him.
“More flexibility is needed so managers can right-size the quotas and have a management system that is responsive. That will come with more verified data and fishermen-led accountability,” he said. “I want to rebuild fish populations and improve profitability for small fishing businesses.”
That too hasn’t changed in two decades.