Questionable acts warrant probe of fishery agency
Two fishing clubs have asked for a federal investigation of the fishery management council.
A REPORT compiled for Oahu recreational fishing groups
raises enough issues to support their call for an investigation of the federal agency that manages fisheries in Hawaii.
Though the request to the U.S. Department of Commerce was initiated by just two organizations, the report -- through details of complaints and grievances from many quarters -- appears to show a pattern of questionable conduct as the agency sought to sustain fishing and other extractive industries in a marine reserve.
Hawaii's congressional delegation should press the department's inspector general to conduct a review. The matter should be of keen interest to Rep. Ed Case, who earlier this year introduced a resolution to establish the nation's first marine refuge to encompass the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and surrounding seas.
The fishing groups contend that the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is supposed to balance preservation of ocean resources with commercial fishing interests, too often tips toward the industry. To protect the industry's stake, the groups say the council acted improperly in dealing with the Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve in the northern islands.
AFTER PRESIDENT Clinton established the reserve in 2000, the fishery council attempted to have the newly installed Bush administration undo or alter the designation with an overly alarming claim that a reserve "could destroy virtually all other existing and potential fisheries in federal waters surrounding Hawaii."
The report's documents show that the council also enlisted the aid of Linda Lingle, then chairman of the state Republican Party, who initially echoed the council's view in a letter to the Commerce Department. Months later, however, Lingle retracted her letter, saying she had based her position on "less than a complete understanding of the issue."
The groups argue that the fishery agency has since resisted efforts to set any boundaries for fishing in the region's waters. They also point to incidences of conflicts of interest among council members "that might explain the behavior of that agency."
The report maintains that the agency issued false and misleading information to influence public opinion about the effects of establishing a sanctuary. Indeed, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources complained to the agency that its media productions "were not accurate and perpetuated a significant amount of misinformation."
Protection of the northwestern islands' ecosystem enjoys wide support in Hawaii. The state recently banned fishing and removal of natural resources in areas under its control. Hawaiian leaders, environmental groups, ocean experts, the public and the state's political leaders all advocate safeguards.
It appears that the fishery council -- whose proposed regulations for fishing in the region were soundly rejected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last month -- is out of step.