The New England Fishery Management Council's long-awaited final deliberations on its habitat amendment got off to a rocky start Wednesday, when one council member was barred from voting because of potential financial conflicts and questions were raised about possible conflicts involving another member.

Mary Beth Nickell-Tooley, an at-large member from Maine since 2008, was informed Wednesday by NOAA Attorney Adviser Mitch MacDonald she "may not vote during the Council's final deliberations on Habitat Amendment alternatives that open or close areas to fishing nor on the final vote to approve the Habitat Amendment for submission to NMFS."

MacDonald's opinion, which reversed an earlier opinion allowing her to vote on all habitat issues, was based on additional information furnished by Nickell-Tooley concerning an oral agreement to provide consulting services through her present business, Sustainable Harvest Consulting, to her former employer, O'Hara Corp.

"The Council decisions on opening or closing fishing areas to scallop fishing in the Habitat Amendment will have a quantifiable effect on O'Hara Corporation's financial interests in the harvest of scallops," MacDonald wrote in a letter to Nickell-Tooley.

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