John Connelly is leaving the National Fisheries Institute after 20 years

John Connelly will retire as president of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI) in February 2023 after 20 years at the helm of the largest U.S. seafood trade association, he announced Tuesday.

He has been the president of NFI since February 2003.

Announcing this decision now gives NFI leadership the necessary time to engage members and receive input as it selects a new president, Connelly said.

Kim Gorton, CEO of Slade Gorton, will lead a search committee.

“We want to make sure we elect the right leader for what NFI members expect and need in the coming years, and not just based on where we are in 2022,” he said.

In addition to Gorton, members of the search committee include Joe Bundrant of Trident Seafoods, Ellen Clarry of Ruby Tuesday, Justin Conrad of Bay Hill and Libby Hill, Jeff Stern of Central Seaway, Jan Tharp of Bumble Bee Foods and Sylvia Wulf of AquaBounty.

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“I am very grateful to have worked with the leaders of our member companies and an outstanding and dedicated staff to create a strong foundation for NFI to build on,” said Connelly.

He renewed the NFI

Connelly, a trade association industry veteran, came to NFI in 2003 after leaving Dick Gutting.

Prior to joining NFI, he was member relations and corporate secretary for the American Chemistry Council, a trade association representing more than 200 chemical industry members.

At the time of his arrival, NFI was in need of restructuring after declining membership and flat revenues for much of the previous decade had plagued the group.

In 2004, NFI agreed to increase its communications budget sevenfold.

“The NFI is wasting far more resources on the offensive message about the benefits of seafood and aggressively defending the industry when its products are attacked,” he said at the time.

This approach became a hallmark of the group’s strategy in the following years and remains so today.

In addition to strengthening its relationship with the media, NFI also began reaching out to health professionals across the country.

At the time, Connelly said he believed even health experts were confused by media stories that advocate the benefits of eating fish one day and warn consumers about the dangers of seafood the next. In the early days of its tenure, the group worked to dispel the myth that seafood is high in mercury.

This outreach to doctors and dieticians remains one of the main communication strategies of the group.

In 2006, Connelly was named IntraFish Person of the Year, and also met with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and soon after joined the board of directors of the sustainable seafood group.

The move was disruptive at the time, as the two groups had been slow to embrace each other until then. When the MSC concept was first presented to NFI members a decade earlier, they scoffed at the idea and most rejected the eco-label program.