Hawaii managed to hold onto one of the two at-large seats it has historically held on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council thanks to the governor of the Northern Mariana Islands nominating someone from the Aloha State.

Edwin Ebisui, a lawyer, part-time commercial fisherman and the council’s current chair, has been appointed to serve another three-year term, the U.S. Commerce Department announced Wednesday.

The other at-large seat will go to commercial tuna fisherman Eo Mokoma of American Samoa, who will replace Kona charter fisherman McGrew Rice after his term ends Aug. 11. Mokoma operates the only active longline boat in the territory, an alia catamaran, according to the nomination letter American Samoa Gov. Lolo Moliga sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Wespac Chair Edwin Ebisui, left, has been appointed to another three-year term. Wespac Executive Director Kitty Simonds, right, had wanted to keep Hawaii residents in two of the at-large seats but the governor’s office bungled the nomination process.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Gov. David Ige’s administration twice missed deadlines to submit to federal officials a list of nominees to fill two of the at-large seats that are expiring on the council, which manages fish stocks in nearly 1.5 million square miles of the Pacific Ocean.

The Commerce Department, which oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was left to choose from the lists of nominees provided by the governors of American Samoa and the Northern Marianas. Guam, the other U.S. territory represented on the council, which has 13 voting members, did not nominate anyone.

Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Gov. Ralph Torres nominated Ebisui, Benigno Sablan, incumbent John Gourley and Joaquin Torres to the at-large seats.

Moliga nominated Mokoma, Keniseli Lafaele and Fuaga Lua Moliga.

The council, known as Wespac, had three seats up this year. Two were at-large and one was an “obligatory” seat for the Northern Marianas. Each territory and state have seats that must be filled by someone who lives there, whereas the at-large seats are not bound by a residency requirement. Gourley, who lives in Saipan, was appointed to the Northern Marianas seat.

Ige’s chief of staff, Mike McCartney, took responsibility for bungling the application process for the Hawaii nominees, which included Tim Johns, Trisha Kehaulani Watson, ʻAulani Wilhelm, William Aila, Sol Kahoʻohalahala and Sean Martin.

He said he submitted the names to NOAA but failed to include all the required paperwork by the deadline, which was initially March 30 but was extended to April 28.

Environmentalists saw it as a missed opportunity for Ige to rebalance the council, which has long tilted more toward the commercial fishing industry than conservation. Others viewed it as a blown chance for Hawaii’s longline tuna fishermen to maintain their grip on the council’s direction by keeping someone friendly to the industry on board.

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