As previous Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council members, we believe that the Civil Beat series “Reeling It In” gives an accurate and valuable accounting of many occurrences that we experienced while serving.

For one, Wespac is anything but an effective manager of our ocean’s fisheries. Wespac is required to manage fishing in a way that protects marine ecosystems and serves all parties, not just large commercial fishing operations.

But Wespac gives scant attention to sustainability of the ecosystem, or to subsistence, sustenance, recreational, sport, or charter fishers. They are laser-focused on the short-term profits of Hawaii’s commercial longline fishery, effectively disregarding everyone else and the long-term ecosystem needs for a healthy, thriving ocean.

Need proof? Hawaii-based longliners reach their quota early for bigeye tuna each year and continue to fish by buying the quotas from U.S. territories. Now, Wespac is proposing to do away with those territory quotas all together, and up the amount of catch Hawaii longliners can get through “fishing agreements.”

How is it sustainable to fish beyond the science-designated quota? Especially when longlines snag and kill endangered turtles, whales, sharks and much more?

Civil Beat is correct to scrutinize Wespac spending. Claims of impropriety, or at least eyebrow-raising spending decisions, by Wespac are not baseless. The instances are countless, but here’s just one example: About a year ago, Wespac held meetings on Maui that cost taxpayers close to $300,000 — with bills racking up at the Wailea Beach Resort Marriott, where basic rooms start at $495.

Why should taxpayers foot the bill for this kind of lavish stay to conduct fishery meetings?

Longliners dock in American Samoa. The authors say Wespac is not effectively managing the fishery resource to maintain sustainability and its actions should be scrutinized.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Fiscal impropriety and self-dealing is not unexpected given that Wespac has been dominated by a small number of people and interests over a long period of time. Unlike other regional fishery management councils, where new representatives and fresh ideas are routinely rotated through the organization, Wespac council members and chairs are recycled endlessly, thereby effectively controlling the organization and its spending for decades.

Chairs representing the Hawaii Longline Association have run Wespac longer than representatives from any other fishery sector. Kitty Simonds herself has been the executive director of Wespac for more than 35 years.

The Sustainable Fisheries Fund is another Wespac construct that appears to be a slush fund for its executive director. As Civil Beat reported, money from this fund has been used to pay for things like ramps, ice machines and a fish market in American Samoa, which essentially flopped, as well as fishery studies by Wespac members and allies, and plenty more.

Dragging Their Feet

What the contractors actually did to deserve thousands upon thousands of dollars, and the deliverables of that work is nowhere to be found — not even on the Wespac website, which they claim is robust but is anything but. It took Freedom of Information Act requests and members of congress to get even a glimpse of this information — which is still incomplete.

Why? It’s likely because Wespac is protecting its council members and allies who got paid — so they’re dragging their feet and stalling so that they don’t expose themselves even more.

Civil Beat is correct to scrutinize Wespac spending. Claims of impropriety, or at least eyebrow-raising spending decisions, by Wespac are not baseless.

Wespac’s executive director and council chair are quick to argue that if the public has something to say, there are plenty of opportunities for public comment. In truth, public comment at Wespac meetings is effectively available only to those who can afford to sit through endless Wespac machinations, for hours and even days on end, hoping for an opportunity to speak.

Even when that does occur, when decisions are dominated by a single interest (the Hawaii Longline Association), the input is often ignored.

It’s time for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and our congressional delegation to oversee Wespac’s fiscal operations and to ensure the full scope of the council’s responsibilities (to sustainably manage the fishery) actually happens. The organization has shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to govern themselves.

Editor’s note: William Aila Jr. is co-authoring this Community Voice in his personal capacity as a Native Hawaiian fisherman.

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