Fisheries council faulted on ethics, lobbying rules
Three Hawaii environmental groups, a native Hawaiian cultural group and a national conservation organization are calling for a congressional investigation of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council.
Na Imi Pono, the Hawaii Audubon Society, the Snorkel Bob Foundation, the Conservation Council for Hawaii and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute said in a joint news release yesterday that they also seek the resignation of Kitty Simonds, longtime council executive director.
The groups' announcement came yesterday after four individuals -- including Linda Paul, Hawaii Audubon Society aquatics division director -- announced they are filing complaints about Simonds and her council, often referred to as Westpac or Wespac, with the U.S. Commerce Department's inspector general.
The complaints allege that the council, which recommends fishery policies for the region, has organized or allowed illegal lobbying, misuse of federal grants, and other regulatory violations.
A key allegation is that the Westpac council improperly paid for and organized four meetings that advocated for three fishing-related bills introduced to the 2007 Hawaii Legislature: HB1848, SB1853 and HB1948.
"It is a violation of federal law for Wespac to engage in, or use, federal money to fund lobbying for state or federal legislation," the complainants said in their release.
Paul is joined in her complaint by Keiko Bonk, former Hawaii County Council member and campaign director for the Northwest Hawaiian Islands Network; Tina Owens, The Lost Fish Coalition director and member of the West Hawaii Fisheries Council; and Makaala Kaaumoana, vice chair of Hui Ho'omalu e ka Aina, a native fishing practices group on Kauai.
Bonk said she was at several Westpac-organized meetings where lobbying efforts were organized for the state legislation and that she told participants that she believed the activity to be illegal.
The Inspector General's Office couldn't be reached for comment yesterday afternoon.
Simonds, who was in a council meeting last night, did not respond to a request for comment via her staff.
Westpac's Executive Council said in a statement yesterday it found "the allegations and insinuations made in the June 20, 2007, media release distributed today against the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council to be untrue."
In November 2005, the Oahu Game Fish Club and the Waianae Boat Fishing Club asked the Commerce Department's inspector general to investigate Westpac's behavior regarding fishing regulations for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, which have since been designated the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.
William Aila, a member of the fishing groups and Na Imi Pono, said the Inspector General's Office typically doesn't confirm investigations, but that he believes one is being conducted.