Insufficient and unrepresentative participation in voluntary public hearings and policy discussions has been problematic since Aristotle's time. In fisheries, research has shown that involvement is dominated by financially resourceful and extreme-opinion stakeholders and tends to advantage groups that have a lower cost of attendance. Stakeholders may exhibit only one or all of these traits but can be still similarly advantaged. The opposites of these traits tend to characterize the disadvantaged, such as the middle-ground opinions, the less wealthy or organized, and the more remote stakeholders. Remoteness or distance is the most straightforward and objective of these characteristics to measure. We analyzed the New England Fishery Management Council's sign-in sheets for 2003-2006, estimating participants' travel distance and associations with the groundfish, scallop, and herring industries. We also evaluated the representativeness of participation by comparing attendance to landings and permit distributions. The distance analysis showed a significant correlation between attendance levels and costs via travel distance. These results suggest a potential bias toward those stakeholders residing closer to meeting locations, possibly disadvantaging parties who are further and must incur higher costs. However, few significant differences were found between the actual fishing industry and attendee distributions, suggesting that the geographical distribution of the meeting attendees is statistically similar to that of the larger fishery. The interpretation of these results must take into consideration the limited time span of the analysis, as policy changes may have altered the industry make-up and location prior to our study. Furthermore, the limited geographical input of stakeholders may lend bias to the Council's perception of ecological and social conditions throughout the spatial range of the fishery. These factors should be further considered in the policy-formation process in order to incorporate a broader range of stakeholder input.
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