Hawaii will soon have less influence in setting national policies that affect everything from commercial fishing to endangered species in nearly 1.5 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

Gov. David Ige’s administration twice missed deadlines to submit to federal officials a list of names to fill two at-large terms that expire in August on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.

The seats have historically been held by Hawaii residents. Instead, they will be filled from the lists provided by the governors of American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Guam, the other U.S. territory represented on the council, did not nominate anyone.

Environmentalists see it as a missed opportunity for Ige to rebalance the council, which has long weighed heavier on the side of the commercial fishing industry than conservation. Others view it as a blown chance for Hawaii’s longline tuna fishermen to maintain their grip on the council’s direction.

In short, neither side is happy.

McGrew Rice attends WESPAC meeting held at Laniakea Auditorium.

McGrew Rice, a Hawaii charter fisherman, will not be serving another term on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. “It’s a terrible loss,” said one of his Wespac colleagues, Dean Sensui.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Known as Wespac, the council has 13 voting members who advise the National Marine Fisheries Service on how to prevent overfishing, minimize bycatch and protect fish stocks and habitat.

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross is expected to decide as soon as Tuesday who will replace McGrew Rice, a charter fisherman with Ihu Nui Kona Sportfishing, and Edwin Ebisui, a lawyer and part-time commercial fisherman. Their three-year terms expire Aug. 10.

“It was so annoying,” Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds said, airing her frustration at the council’s meeting last week in Honolulu. She said she hounded state officials to get the names submitted.

Wespac voted to “express its concerns and its disappointment” to Hawaii regarding the state’s failure to transmit nominees in time for the feds to consider them.

The nominations were initially due March 30. NMFS, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, extended that deadline to April 28 after not receiving nominations for the at-large seats.

The governor’s office subsequently attempted to send in a list of six names but did not include all the necessary information such as nominees’ resumes, financial information and signatures establishing they were willing to serve.

“We did submit the names of individuals who would have made an outstanding contribution to the organization,” Mike McCartney, Ige’s chief of staff, said in an emailed statement. “Unfortunately, I did not fully understand the requirements of the application process, and the paperwork did not reach NOAA until after the deadline. I regret making this error. We will be ready to submit names when the opportunity arises.”

Ed Ebisui attends WESPAC meeting held at Laniakea Auditorium.

Wespac Chair Edwin Ebisui may be able to keep his seat thanks to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ governor including him in its list of nominees.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ebisui, the council’s current chair, may be able to keep his seat thanks to Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres including him on the list of four names Torres nominated for the two at-large seats.

But Rice is out since Hawaii and Guam did not nominate anyone and American Samoa and CNMI did not include him on their lists.

The list submitted in May included Tim Johns, Trisha Kehaulani Watson, ʻAulani Wilhelm, William Aila, Sol Kahoʻohalahala and Sean Martin, according to the governor’s office.

Wespac has been urging President Donald Trump to allow commercial fishing inside the expanded area of the monument, which totals 583,000 square miles in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

That would have given the feds a range of options. They could have kept the status quo by appointing a longtime commercial fisherman and former Wespac member in Martin, or charted a new course with someone like Wilhelm, who heads Conservation International’s oceans program.

“The governor is to be commended for submitting folks with different perspectives than in the past,” said Aila, who has 20 years’ experience on various Wespac advisory groups and served as one of its automatically designated members when he was head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Aila said he is concerned about the positions Wespac has taken on recent issues, such as its opposition to President Barack Obama’s fourfold expansion of Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument

Wespac has been urging President Donald Trump to allow commercial fishing inside the expanded area of the monument, which totals 583,000 square miles in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

“The council is going to continue to make recommendations on this and have less Hawaii members opining during the process as it goes forward,” Aila said.

Sean Martin President Hawaii Longline Fishing Association speaks during Fishing Means Food rally held at the Capitol Rotunda. 26 july 2016

Sean Martin, who’s been in the commercial fishing business for years, said it’s “unfortunate” that Hawaii will have less industry expertise on Wespac.

Martin did not fault NOAA for not extending the deadline a second time or making an exception for Hawaii, but said it was “unfortunate” that the islands will be losing at least one seat.

“We would like to have more local expertise represented on the council,” he said. “The two outgoing at-large members were very engaged in the industry. Neither one of them is what I would call a longline representative but they were certainly well versed in commercial fishing. Those are valuable things for the council to have access to and unfortunately it’s not going to happen this go-around.”

Rice said his name was being considered at one point but that it was removed by the time the governor’s office sent its tardy list to NOAA. He tried to get some answers during Wespac’s meeting Thursday.

“I did not fully understand the requirements of the application process, and the paperwork did not reach NOAA until after the deadline.” — Mike McCartney, Ige’s chief of staff

DLNR Division of Aquatic Resources Administrator Bruce Anderson said Rice’s name was on the list when it was sent to the governor’s office for review. He wasn’t sure why it was excluded from the list that was later sent to NOAA.

Rice said he is the “only real fisherman in the room” and did not think he had done anything wrong during his tenure to not deserve another term.

His Wespac colleagues were similarly flummoxed.

“It’s mind-boggling,” said Dean Sensui, one of the remaining council members representing Hawaii. “It’s a terrible loss.”

Sensui said Rice is out on the water virtually all the time, giving the council “direct eyes on the situation” and providing insight.

In addition to Sensui, the council will still have Hawaii representation from Michael Goto, who runs the Honolulu Fish Auction, and DLNR Chair Suzanne Case, a designated state official.

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