The failure of modern fisheries management is blamed on myriad socio-economic and technical problems, but the most fundamental reason for failure might be the overwhelming dominance of extractive interests in participatory decision-making venues. In the United States, commercial fishing interests made up 49% of appointed voting members of the eight Regional Fishery Management Councils between 1990 and 2001; recreational fishing interests made up 33%, and all other interests combined made up 17%. Dominance of commercial fishing representation over the 'other' group was statistically significant, and this unequal apportionment of interests remained statistically stable throughout the 12 years of reporting. Contemporary economic sensibilities within this 'industry-captured' regulatory process generate perverse incentives for management decisions that conflict with, and can undermine, national sustainability goals and standards, even when those standards are logically sound and agreed to by consensus. Positive feedbacks in the system reinforce the unequal representation of interests. The relative dominance of these interests can be adjusted through an experiment that legally mandates an apportionment formula designed to optimize the welfare and interests of the general public, thus testing the notion that increasing the relative representation of general public interests would improve the lacklustre performance of US federal fisheries management.