The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has directed the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) to investigate the extent to which federal grant funds might have been misused by council staff members involved in preparing the pending petition to remove the Hawaiian green sea turtle from the federal list of threatened and endangered species.

In 2007, the Maunalua Hawaiian Civic Club introduced a proposal to delist the Hawaiian green sea turtle to the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Wespac executive director Kitty Simonds founded and is president of the Maunalua club and council staffers Charles Kaaiai and Mark Mitsuyasu also sit on the club’s board of directors.

Green sea turtle looks left

A green sea turtle dozes on the beach.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

In a July 11 letter, U.S. Rep. Gregorio Sablan asked National Marine Fisheries Service assistant administrator Eileen Sobeck and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Kathryn Sullivan for an update on NOAA’s investigation into allegations that Wespac staff had prepared the petition, submitted to NMFS in February 2012 by the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs. Sablan represents the Northern Mariana Islands and is the ranking minority member of the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs.

In an August 6 letter, Sobeck responded that NOAA’s Grants Management Division (GMD) had informed Wespac that the preparation of the petition by council staff “did not comply with the terms and conditions of its Federal Assistance Award and the Council must immediately implement remedial measures.” Wespac receives all of its funding in the form of government grants.

Sobeck continued that Wespac must provide details to GMD “describing by who within the Council, where, and when the petition was drafted, and the circumstances surrounding the decision to draft and edit the petition as well as provide an estimate of the costs associated with the petition. Further, the Council should impose disciplinary measures upon those Council staff members who have misused award funds. Based on the response from the Council regarding these items, NOAA will determine whether additional action is needed.”

Reprinted with permission from the current issue of Environment Hawaii, a non-profit news publication. The entire issue, as well as more than 20 years of past issues, is available free to Environment Hawaii subscribers at Non-subscribers must pay $10 for a two-day pass.


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