Special Interest Capture of Regulatory Agencies: A Ten-Year Analysis of Voting Behavior on Regional Fishery Management Councils


Craig W. Thomas is an associate professor of public affairs at the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
A. Bradley Soule is a program and policy analyst in the Office of Fisheries & Protected Species Law Enforcement, United States Coast Guard.
Tyler Blake Davis is a doctoral candidate in the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.


This article tests capture theory by analyzing voting behavior on U.S. Regional Fishery Management Councils. Some seats on the councils are reserved for state and federal agency representatives; others, for political appointees. The political appointees primarily represent special interests (specifically, commercial and recreational fishing interests); a smaller number of appointees represent public interests. We use logistic regression to model the vote of state and federal agency representatives on the councils as a function of the votes of commercial interests, recreational interests, and public interests. We find evidence that some state agencies are captured by special interests from their states, but not systematic evidence across all states. We find that state agency representatives voted with commercial interests from their own state in five of the sixteen states in our sample; with recreational interests in three states; and with both special interests in two states. These ten states support the capture hypothesis; the other six states do not. We find no evidence that federal agencies were captured on the councils. We conclude that the gubernatorial-driven appointment process leads to capture at the state level by promoting voting blocs among state agency representatives and special interests from those states. Federal agency representatives, by contrast, are better able to maintain their distance from state-level politics on the councils, and thereby enhance their ability to vote independently on fishery management measures.