As retirement looms, John Bullard reflects on his years at the helm of GARFO; challenges and accomplishments


As NOAA Fisheries Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office (GARFO) administrator John Bullard nears retirement in early January, he sat down with CFN’s Joyce Rowley recently for this candid interview reflecting on many of the challenges and accomplishments he faced during his tenure.  —Editor

GLOUCESTER, MA – When John Bullard stepped into the role of regional administrator, overseeing what was then known as NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office (NERO) back in 2012, many in the fishing industry here were openly distrustful of the science, the enforcement, and the management of regional fisheries at the federal level.

What he was given by then NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco was a clear mandate for change.

Lubchenco tasked Bullard, Bill Karp at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and Logan Gregory, special agent in charge of the Northeast for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), with overhauling the way the agency was doing business in the region, Bullard said in a recent reflective interview with Commercial Fisheries News, as he nears retirement early next year.

John Bullard (NOAA photo)

Just two years earlier, OLE had been shaken up with the removal of its chief, Dale Jones, for misuse of funds, unfair enforcement on New England fishermen, and shredding documents, during an investigation by the Office of Inspector General.

That was the climate that Bullard walked into, and one that he was charged with turning around, right in the midst of a groundfish crisis.

Where to start? 

Beginning with a “listening tour” – with 22 stops from Ellsworth, ME to Manteo, NC – Bullard developed a prioritized list of concerns voiced by stakeholders.

Groundfish topped the list, of course.  Then came Atlantic sturgeon, river herring, porpoise, harbor seals, and spiny dogfish.

Also, one frequently heard comment.  Fishermen hated the regulations and therefore the regulators.

“But if you mentioned the name of a person at NERO, (now called the Greater Atlantic Regional Fisheries Office),   they had a good relationship with the person,” said Bullard.

Bullard built on that.  Adding a Stakeholder Engagement Division, he began to mend fences.

“One of the things that I’m very proud about: With a lot of hard work, we have become better at communicating with many of the people that we serve,” said Bullard.

Although the groundfish crisis was top of the list, he saw broken relationships between his agency and everyone outside of GARFO as the biggest hurdle, making it difficult to solve any problem.

He ticked off the relationships that he and GARFO…

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