How much did U.S. taxpayers spend to argue against the recent expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument?

Environment Hawaii asked that question after the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (Wespac) issued a press release describing a meeting held at the White House on Sept. 9. According to the press release, the council delegation, which “included leaders from Hawai`i, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council,” met with presidential counselor John Podesta, acting head of the Council on Environmental Quality Michael Boots, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Daniel Ashe, and Christine Blackburn, senior advisor to the undersecretary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

President Barack Obama announced in June his intention to expand the reserve by increasing to 200 miles the fishing exclusion zone around all of the Pacific remote islands (Wake, Howland, Baker, and Jarvis islands, Kingman reef and Palmyra atoll, and Johnston atoll). Under the monument as established in 2009 by President George W. Bush, the reserve extended just 50 miles. The proposed expansion would have increased the protected area from 83,000 square miles to more than 750,000 square miles.

Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument

A bluefin trevally at Palmyra Atoll in the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/Kydd Pollock

Although the press release states that the delegates described catastrophic consequences if the expansion was made as proposed, data included in a slick, four-color, 18-page booklet prepared by Wespac especially for the White House meeting indicated that at no time in recent history did the area proposed account for more than 16 percent of the fishing effort expended by Hawaii longliners – and that occurred in 2000. In more recent years, fishing by longliners in the area has been even less than that, averaging less than 4 percent since 2008.

According to Wespac’s press release, “at the meeting, government officials reaffirmed their support for the monument’s expansion, however, they did not explain their rationale or expound upon any supporting facts.”

On Sept. 24, the president announced the monument would be expanded to 200 miles around Johnston, Jarvis, and Wake, but that the previously existing 50-mile exclusion zones around Kingman reef, Palmyra atoll, and Howland and Baker islands would remain.

Wespac wasted no time in taking credit for the reduction. Another press release, issued that same day, quoted Wespac executive director Kitty Simonds as saying, “We appreciate the White House’s compromise on a monument expansion that could have devastated the region’s fisheries and communities without notable environmental benefits.”

At Wespac’s meeting in October, Simonds described how the council “spent the summer trying to convince Obama not to expand the PRIA monument.”

“We were partially successful. … I think we did a good job,” she said.

Attending the White House meeting at taxpayer expense were seven individuals: Simonds; council members Ed Ebisui of Wahiawa, Claire Poumele of American Samoa, and Arnold Palacios of CNMI; and council staffers Paul Dalzell, Sylvia Spalding, and Eric Kingma. The total costs of their travel and related expenses came to more than $33,000. The cost of producing the special booklet for the White House meeting came to nearly $1,000.

But the Wespac delegation included many others whose expenses were not covered by Wespac – at least so far as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration could determine. These were Ed Watamura, head of the council’s advisory panel; Ricardo DeRosa, a purse seiner from American Samoa; Pierre Kleiber, a statistician (now retired) formerly with the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center; Makani Christensen, a commercial fisherman in Hawaii; Neil Kanemoto of the Pacific Island Fisheries Group; Bob Fram, of Garden and Valley Isle Seafood; Roy Morioka, former council member and now involved with the Hawaii Fishermen’s Alliance for Conservation and Tradition (HFACT); Tony Costa, a Hawaii fisherman; Brooks Takenaka of the Honolulu Fish Auction; Frank Farm, another former council member and now president of the Alii Holo Kai Dive Club; Steven Lee, also of HFACT; and Sean Martin, former council member and president of the Hawaii Longline Association.

But Is It Lobbying?

Wespac has sailed close to the wind before – and been chastised for it – for lobbying efforts. As a result, it was given clear guidelines by the inspector general of NOAA as to what it might and might not do to lobby government agencies (presumably, including the Council on Environmental Quality) with respect to the council’s perceived interests. Unless invited to do so by a legislative or executive body, the council was not to approach government agencies with an eye to affecting their decisions.

In this case, however, it would seem as though the CEQ did invite input from the council. In an email July 31, from Franz Hochstrasser, then deputy associate director of the CEQ, to Simonds, the council is invited to “a meeting or call on the possible expansion” of the monument.

A week later, Simonds called Hochstrasser, and then emailed him to confirm the substance of their discussion. “We will participate in a telcon,” she wrote, “but it is no substitute for a face to face discussion on a decision as enormous as this one.. … Brian hallman is flying to dc for a face to face discussion. The council, hla and the PAC must have the same opportunity.”

(Brian Hallman is executive director of the American Tunaboat Association, a group representing purse seiners. HLA is the Hawaii Longline Association. PAC is an acronym that is as yet unknown to Environment Hawaii.)

Hochstrasser replied on Aug. 6, stating that he would be “glad to honor your request for an in-person meeting.”

Although the meeting was on Sept. 9, hotel bills show the members of the Wespac delegation stayed a minimum of three nights at the Marriott hotel, at a rate of more than $400 a night.

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.

Note from the author: The following letter was received from the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council’s public relations officer, Sylvia Spalding. We reprint it in its entirety:

In its December 2014 issue, Environment Hawaii published an article on the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s meeting with officials from the White House on September 9, 2014, in Washington, D.C., to discuss the President’s plans to expand the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument boundaries. There are several incorrect statements in the article.

The article intimates that the Council was engaged in improper lobbying. However, lobbying restrictions applicable to fishery management councils, as set forth in OMB circulars and 50 CFR 600.227, apply to contacts with Congress, not with the Executive Branch. It is surprising to see criticism of a situation where White House officials requested information from the fishery management council when that information would help them better understand the impact of their proposed conservation decisions on local communities and thus contribute to better informed decisions.

The Council was invited by the White House to participate in this meeting, and the meeting was consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. By attending the Council was being responsive to the White House’s request and doing the job it was appointed to do.

The article also reports on the cost and duration of the hotel stay in DC and the cost to produce briefing material for the meeting. These expenses were appropriate. Council members traveled from Hawai`i, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Flight time from the CNMI to D.C. averages 20 to 24 hours and crosses 15 time zones. Flight time from American Samoa averages 25 to 29 hours and crosses six time zones and the equator. Travel and accommodations reflect these factors. The cost of the briefing booklet was unanticipated but necessary when the Council learned that the meeting site was not equipped for PowerPoints. These costs included photocopying and binding expenses at the local FedEx.

The article also implies that Ed Watmaura, Ricardo DeRosa, Pierre Kleiber, Makani Christensen, Neil Kanemoto, Bob Fram, Roy Morioka, Tony Costa, Brooks Takenaka, Frank Farm and Steven Lee attended the September meeting with White House officials. None of them did.

Author’s response:

While Spalding’s letter mentions several “incorrect statements,”  there is only one that requires correction. The list of people attending the Washington meeting on September 9 is wrong. Those individuals were instead speaking at a “town hall” meeting sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on August 11.

Actually, the individuals who attended the Washington, D.C., meeting, apart from those whose way was paid by U.S. taxpayers, were Sean Martin, former council chair and head of the Hawai`i Longline Association, and Svein Fougner, a former National Marine Fisheries Service manager and now consultant to HLA.

We appreciate the opportunity to correct the record and apologize for the error.


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