NFI President John Connelly to retire in 2023

NFI outgoing president John Connelly

John Connelly will retire as the president of the National Fisheries Institute, the leading U.S. seafood industry trade group, he announced at the NFI Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday, 18 January.

Connelly made the announcement at the opening of NFI’s 2022 Global Seafood Market Conference, taking place 18 to 20 January, 2022, at the Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate in Orlando, Florida, U.S.A. Connelly said he intends to retire by his 20-year anniversary at NFI in February 2023.

“I feel very strongly about the importance of succession and proper planning for that. It’s something that as a formal naval officer, we talked a lot about – ensuring continuity in case things happened to other leaders on a ship. It’s a core part of how you’re trained and that has been embedded in my head for years,” Connelly told SeafoodSource. “As many as 10 years ago, I began developing ideas of what was important in developing my succession plan. I’ve now been with NFI for 20 years, and I think the organization is in a strong position. From the perspective of our lobbying, communications, our technical skills, I provide good value to our members. That’s not to say we’re perfect, and this will be a great opportunity to think over next three, four, five months what do the members want out of NFI, what new things should we do, and how should we do things differently in order to provide even more value to members.”

NFI has formed a search committee, composed of Slade Gorton President and CEO Kim Gorton, Trident CEO Joe Bundrant, Ruby Tuesday Chief Global Supply Chain Officer Ellen Clarry, Bay Hill and Libby Hill President and CEO Justin Conrad, CenSea Vice President of Purchasing Jeff Stern, Bumble Bee President and CEO Jan Tharp, and AquaBounty President and CEO Sylvia Wulf. The search committee will forward its choice for Connelly’s successor to NFI’s executive committee by July 2022.

“I am pleased that the board today approved a search committee comprised of  leaders from various member companies who represent a wide range of experiences and viewpoints,” Gorton, the committee’s chair, said in a press release. “An important part of this process will be to hear the views of NFI membership regarding NFI’s mission and key objectives over the next decade, and in particular, how NFI can continue to create value for its members. We want to ensure we select the right leader for what NFI members expect and need in the coming years, and not just based on where we are now in 2022.”

Connelly said he’s looking forward to retirement and the additional personal time it will give him, but said he wants to ensure before he leaves NFI that the organization has the time it needs to ensure a smooth transition to new leadership.

“My mantra is what we might need in 2027 might not be what we need in 2022. The type of leader need then might not be same as now,” Connelly said. “We have an incredibly dedicated staff and a hardworking group of member-leaders, but it’s good for us all to plan five years out, not five days out, or five weeks out.”

NFI Chair Mike Breivik said he appreciated the time Connelly has given the organization to find a successor.

“In addition to NFI’ s ongoing technical, communications and advocacy work, this year we have the opportunity to think about the future.  The board looks forward to working with Kim and John to ensure a robust and smooth succession process,” Breivik said.

Connelly said at the moment, his attention is focused on ensuring a successful GSMC, which he said will once again provide vital information and unique access to seafood-industry experts intended to give attendees a leg up in 2022.

“What we do is unlike how anyone else puts on a conference, as far as comparing species and how they compete against each other and work with each other,” he said. “This year’s event will focus on the changing market situation and how that’s going to influence and impact the folks at the pointy end of the spear – retailers and restauranteurs, and how they interact with consumers. The data we will be sharing will help those in attendance organize their businesses through second quarter and third quarter of the year.”

Connelly said he’s proud of the way the U.S. seafood industry came through the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year’s GSMC will look into how companies survived and thrived over the past two years. Presentations by representatives of 210 Analytics, IRI, Datassential, Rabobank, Wells Fargo, and the National Restaurant Association will give insight into which segments of the market did best through the pandemic and why, Connelly said.

“One of the really neat things about working for this industry is watching leaders adjust and adapt to this situation, whether retailers moved forward to foodservice-style preparations, or companies more focused on foodservice improved their retail offerings. It shows strength of leadership most companies adjusted to this well,” Connelly said.

Connelly also highlighted a panel on Wednesday, 19 January that will look at the changing dynamics of international processing.

“Certainly China has been a central force in processing fish internationally, but given a number of dynamics, companies are asking around whether might be a different approach they might take. They’re looking at diversifying into other countries, moving out of China,” he said. “We’re going to host a discussion about whether that’s a real trend or a perceived trend.”

Connelly said he is excited for the return of in-person events, which have largely been postponed or canceled since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for NFI members to have the ability to meet and talk business in Orlando.

“The seafood industry is a people industry. It’s something that leaders in the industry when I first started told me. At the time, I wasn’t sure what that meant, but within six months of joining NFI, I saw how in our industry, it’s so important to meet each other and look each other in the eye. The best way to do that is in person. Zoom and online meetings are great but are not a substitute for being able to look your customer or supplier in the eye. We certainly recognize there are risks associated with that right now, but we are trying to minimize them as much as possible.”

NFI is “following all the CDC guidelines as far as protection and prevention” and has put in place “as many safeguards as possible.” Both in regard to the conference and the future of the seafood industry, Connelly said the world is going to have to live with COVID-19 rather than try to avoid it indefinitely.

“Of course, we rely on medical professionals their recommendations. There certainly seems to be greater acknowledgement that seems to be moving toward a consensus that not going to beat COVID-19 in the sense it’s going to go away. What we’re going to do is better manager the way we deal with COVID, where we’re trying to prevent its spread and better the techniques and practices we employ that minimize the risk we provide to others. Those are all things medical and public health experts are trying to convey to folks, as well as [many] policy leaders. They seem to be more comfortable suggesting we’re not going to kill COVID per se, but what we’re going to do is learn how to live with this virus. As far as the seafood industry, we’ve already begun that. The fact that [Seafood Expo North America] is going forward, that [Seafood Expo Global] is going to go forward, are indications the global community understands we’re not going to go back to a pre-COVID world. There are ways to get together, operate a facility, business, sales meetings, and get-togethers in a very safe way, and I think that’s where we are as a seafood community.”

While the seafood business community has had a mixed reaction to the return of in-person events, with companies including Cermaq, Mowi, and Peter Pan withdrawing from the 2022 Seafood Expo North America, the entire seafood business universe is in agreement that the pandemic has been good for business. Even with the pandemic, Connelly said he believes signs are pointing up for the industry.

Seafood sales are up and that’s a good thing obviously for us as an industry, and a good thing for health of Americans and for the health of American economy and other economies,” Connelly said. “I’m an upbeat person I’m bullish on seafood and I think we have a great future.”

Photo courtesy of National Fisheries Institute


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