An environmental group has filed a complaint with federal officials over Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds’ role in orchestrating opposition to the proposed expansion of the marine monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

Marjorie Ziegler, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, says Simonds is providing “the advocacy and the lobbying campaign” against the proposal to expand Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

“It’s totally inappropriate for Kitty Simonds in her official capacity as executive director of Wespac – a taxpayer, federally funded entity – to play such a prominent role in an aggressive lobbying effort to generate public and political opposition to the proposed expansion,” Ziegler said Friday in an interview.

Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds attends a rally against expanding Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on July 15 at Pier 38 in Honolulu.
Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council Executive Director Kitty Simonds attends a rally against expanding Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument on July 15 at Pier 38 in Honolulu. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Wespac, which has jurisdiction over 1.5 million square miles of ocean, is one of eight regional fishery management councils that recommend measures, approved by the secretary of commerce, to manage fisheries and protect habitat.

Wespac officials did not return messages seeking comment Friday.

UPDATE Sylvia Spalding, a spokeswoman for Wespac, sent this statement on Monday:

“The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council’s actions are consistent with federal financial requirements and its Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act mandates. Recent Council actions regarding the proposed expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (MNM) are in response to letters from private citizens and a senator; the letters are neither legislation nor proposed legislation.

“The Council’s actions have been focused on the likely impact the proposed Monument expansion would have on the viability of fisheries that are under its jurisdiction and a vital part of Hawaii’s economy. Participating in public discussions on ocean policy that may affect fisheries in the Western Pacific Region is an appropriate function of the Council. Public discussions also provide an opportunity for all viewpoints. If a presidential proclamation is issued to modify the existing monument, the Council will support it, as it has done for the original Papahanaumokuakea MNM, the original Pacific Remote Islands MNM, the Marianas Trench MNM, the Rose Atoll MNM and the expanded Pacific Remote Islands MNM.”

The Conservation Council of Hawaii’s complaint was sent Friday to David Smith, deputy inspector general in the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Office of Inspector General, and Lois Schiffer, general counsel for the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.

“Specifically, Ms. Simonds – in her official capacity – is providing leadership and actively advising the campaign opposing the proposed expansion while Wespac operates with appropriated federal funds. Furthermore, her lobbying activities appear to violate specific guidance on the use of federal funds,” Ziegler wrote. “She is also interfering with government operations at the federal and state levels, undermining and misrepresenting efforts and science provided by or funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and showing a blatant disregard for the facts that support sound management of marine resources.”

An internal email dated July 16 that Simonds apparently sent from her official Wespac address essentially lays out her game plan for how the opposition plans to defeat the expansion proposal. In the email, which has the subject line “Fwd: Civil Beat Article,” Simonds reiterates concerns that Civil Beat and other media are making the storyline over the expansion about fishing and not paying as much attention to the angle that it would conflict with Native Hawaiian rights.

She lays out a campaign to shift the narrative on a number of fronts.

Simonds writes that “we’re on several tracks,” then lists: “Letter to prez, Meeting with ige, Govs press conference at the capitol …”

Most of the items laid out in the email have been done.

Simonds sent a letter in opposition to President Barack Obama, who will ultimately decide whether to expand the monument by using his executive authority under the Antiquities Act, just as President George W. Bush did when he first created the monument in 2006.

Former Gov. George Ariyoshi spoke at a recent rally against the proposed expansion, and has sent a letter to Obama that was also signed by former Gov. Ben Cayetano and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

Simonds says in her email that Ariyoshi planned to meet with Gov. David Ige, who has yet to endorse or oppose the proposal. She’s also working to develop a database of names and organizations, along with a website.

“It is inappropriate for Ms. Simonds and Wespac to play a leading role in advocating and lobbying against a potential executive action by President Obama, when NOAA and the Secretary of Commerce will be advising the president on whether or not to use his executive authority to expand the monument,” Ziegler said in the letter. “This is inappropriate and interferes with a government function at the executive and administrative level. Ms. Simonds’ and Wespac’s active involvement in opposing the proposed expansion is also inappropriate given Wespac’s and NOAA’s relationship in co-managing Hawai‘i fisheries.”

Ziegler also takes issue with what she sees as Simonds’ and Wespac’s efforts to manipulate data and mislead the public in an attempt to stop expansion of the monument. Wespac is supposed to be managing an at-risk fishery, she said, not fueling the opposition on a political decision.

“Further concerning is that the PMNM opposition campaign is built upon a foundation of misinformation, half- truths, and fearmongering designed to mislead the public and elected officials (both current and former) into believing that expansion of PMNM is bad for the Hawai‘i-based longline fleet, Hawai‘i seafood industry, tuna consumers, and the general public,” Ziegler said. “There is no evidence to substantiate the claims made by Wespac and the PMNM opposition. The science actually indicates the opposite is true – a larger, more fully protected PMNM will better sustain the ocean ecosystem for Hawai‘i’s future, especially in light of the continuing decline of bigeye fish stocks and the impacts of climate change.”

“The actions of Wespac and its staff are supposed to be based on the ‘best scientific information available,'” she said. “Wespac is trying to maximize fisheries profits at the expense of conservation without pointing to any credible, data-based scientific information that balances projected impacts on fisheries profits against the conservation benefits of expansion.”

This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
This map shows the proposed expansion area around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. Courtesy: Sen. Brian Schatz

Proponents of the expansion want Obama to make the announcement in September when Hawaii hosts one of the world’s biggest environmental conferences. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress is set to meet Sept. 1-10 in Honolulu.

Next week, federal officials are holding two three-hour public meetings on the proposal – Monday in Waipahu at 5 p.m. and Tuesday in Lihue at 4 p.m. Both sides are already working to line up people to testify.

The monument’s current boundaries extend 50 miles around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, encompassing 139,800 square miles. The proposal, as outlined in a letter to the president from U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii, calls for expanding the boundaries out to 200 miles, the maximum allowed under federal authority, which would encompass 582,578 square miles.

Read the complaint below.

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