John Connelly, longtime leader of the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), died Sunday after battling cancer. He was 61.

Connelly announced at the beginning of this year he would retire as president of NFI next February after 20 years at the helm of the largest seafood trade association in North America.

A few months after, he learned he had cholangiocarcinoma, also known as bile duct cancer.

In November, NFI named Lisa Wallenda Picard as Connelly's successor at the trade group.

NFI released a statement on Connelly's passing:

"The catalog of John’s achievements is lengthy, including the creation of the Better Seafood Board; the merger of the National Tuna Federation and subsequent development of the NFI Council system; plus, the annual Global Seafood Market Conference; the conception of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership; and contributing his steady voice on multiple industry boards. NFI members will long remember John’s unwavering presence and leadership during the early days of the pandemic. These are just a few of the contributions that will have a lasting impact."

After joining NFI in 2003, Connelly radically refocused the group's mission and increased its marketing and communications budget. He saw the industry had a key advantage over other proteins -- health -- and ensured the group exploited the message.

Part of Connelly's success came from a combination of keeping the NFI disciplined (he served as a lieutenant in the US Navy in the 1980s and '90s, and remained in the naval reserve well into his time at NFI), while also pushing the industry to embrace topics that once were difficult for seafood such as sustainability and -- oddly enough -- cooperation.

When originally interviewed for the job, Connelly didn't pull punches about where the industry was weakest, he told the in-house magazine of his Alma Mater, College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.

“I explained that the seafood industry was like the German states in the 1860s,” Connelly told the magazine.

“Each industry sector fought their own battles, like pre-Bismarck Germany. I told them we should unify and pick fights with beef and pork, much like the chancellor. It was important to fuse the seafood industry.”

IntraFish named Connelly its first-ever Person of the Year in 2006.


Connelly is survived by his wife, Margaret, his children Kate (Jack), Jack (Rui), Bridget (John) and Maggie (Ryan), his extended family, friends, and his colleagues from around the globe.

NFI has established “The John Connelly Intern Scholarship” at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, to benefit the Semester in DC Program. John mentored Holy Cross interns for more than 10 years at NFI and took great pride in demystifying advocacy as a career.

The scholarship will be awarded annually to an NFI advocacy intern and benefit other interns at DC food trade associations. To contribute to the scholarship contact: Phil Gibson, Holy Cross Advancement, 1 College Street, Worcester, MA 01610.

NFI will hold a memorial honoring Connelly on Jan. 15 at the Global Seafood Market Conference at La Quinta Resort, Palm Springs.