Critics persist in taking unfair swipes at fishery council
THE Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council lives with controversy; it is the nature of its mission. The council interacts with community groups and diverse interests. Its allies and opponents are continuously shifting, depending on the issues before the council and the decisions it makes. The council strives to serve all sides responsively. Its process is open, transparent and inclusive.
The council and its staff work long hours, weekends and holidays to responsibly manage ocean resources. The council consults federal legal advisers and operates under a carefully monitored budget with annual independent audits and the regular scrutiny of other federal agencies, including Congress and the Commerce Department.
Recently, a group of individuals have used the media in an attempt to prompt Congress and the inspector general to investigate the council. These same individuals have spoken at length at council meetings. We have answered their questions and provided them with documents. However, they will not be satisfied. They apparently prefer to cling to their agenda, morph their charges and ignore the facts.
Contrary to their allegations, the council and its staff did not sponsor, promote or lobby for any piece of state legislation, including House Bill 1848. The council and its staff do respond to inquiries from legislators and did organize a series of meetings with the Association of Hawaiian Civic Clubs and several state agencies to encourage the participation of indigenous communities in the fishery management process as mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and other federal directives. These meetings were historic and immensely beneficial, yet some people apparently feel threatened by them.
THESE CRITICS have a history of attempts to discredit the council, its members and staff. Their list of misinformation includes accusations that the council is under investigation. While there was a request for an investigation in 2005, the council responded to it and has been informed by its parent Commerce Department agency that there is no such investigation.
Failing to make a convincing case against the council, the critics have shifted their focus to a personal attack on the council's executive director, Kitty Simonds, claiming she's the nation's fifth-highest paid federal official. Research would show that her pay is fully consistent with the federal civil service pay scale, and there are many other federal employees in Hawaii who are paid as much or more. The executive director succeeded three predecessors in 1983 and has served since then under many chairmen (including me), four national administrations and four state administrations. To counteract these charges, this year on June 22 at the close of its 138th meeting, the council gave Simonds a unanimous vote of confidence.
NEVERTHELESS, repetition of untruths can spread an impression of wrongdoing and waste. Unfortunately, some respected news media and other well-meaning organizations have mistaken these complainants as representatives of legitimate environmental concerns and have blindly accepted their allegations and insinuations, and regurgitated the misinformation without taking the time or effort for independent review before re-publication.
These complainants do not have the support they project through the use of titles of organizations to which they are affiliated. They are individuals with axes to grind. They do not represent the concerns of Hawaii's larger environmental or Hawaiian communities. Do the organizations have active and functioning governing bodies? Did the governing bodies of the respective organizations sanction their actions beforehand? Are the allegations made for personal interests and agendas, rather than conservation? "Who are these people and who do they really represent?" would be a good place to start.
COUNCIL WORK, by its very nature, is difficult and contentious. As required by the national standards contained in the Magnuson-Stevens Act, council work requires consideration of many competing interests and points of view before making decisions for the greater good of society. Council members do not have "constituencies"; it is not a matter of commercial fishing vs. recreational fishing vs. conservation, because ultimately we all have the same interest -- responsible management of the marine resources for food, cultural practices, recreation, aesthetics and enjoyment in perpetuity.
Edwin Ebisui Jr. is five-term vice chairman of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, a small boat fisherman and an attorney.