Fishery Council Struggles to Justify Expenses for 2018 Meeting at Maui Resort

posted in: October 2019 | 0

In articles published in February and June, Environment Hawai‘i reported on expenses related to the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council’s meetings held at the Wailea Beach Resort – Marriott on Maui in June 2018. We found that the cost to taxpayers came to around $300,000, and council costs alone were about $200,000 above the norm.

In our June article, we pointed out several questionable expenses that council staff had not explained by press time. After the article came out, council communications officer Sylvia Spalding emailed the council’s explanations. Follow-up questions were, again, not answered by press time.

Family Perks: EH noted that Roy Morioka, an O‘ahu-based bottomfish fisherman and a former council chair and committee member, had his airfare and lodging paid for by the council.

Spalding admitted that Morioka was not a current member of any council committee or panel, but was a member of a working group that assisted the federal Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center in preparing its Main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish stock assessment.

“This working group provided scientific advice to the council at its June meeting relating to the council’s action on the MHI bottomfish,” Spalding wrote.

Hawai‘i Pacific University professor Samuel Kahng was also an O‘ahu-based member of the group and attended the council meeting on Maui. The council did not foot his bills, however.

Passing Ships: In addition to holding its meeting at the Wailea resort, the council chose to hold its Scientific and Statistical Committee meeting there, as well. Nearly a dozen committee members — most of whom are from the U.S. mainland or abroad — attended the committee meeting, held June 6-8, 2018.

Spalding didn’t offer much of an explanation why the SSC had to meet on Maui. She stated simply, “The SSC convened on Maui because the council convened on Maui to discuss the Hawaii bottomfish action, and the SSC provides scientific advice to the council relating to its fishery management actions.”

Even when both the committee and the council meet on O‘ahu, SSC members — except for the committee chair — don’t cross paths with the council, since committee meetings are held the week before the council meets. The committee chair, currently Seattle attorney Jim Lynch, holds a seat on the council and is tasked with relaying the committee’s recommendations at each council meeting.

In addition to Lynch, the only SSC member to actually attend the Maui council meeting was David Itano and none of the council members attended the SSC meeting.

Also, the council has never held SSC meetings in American Samoa, Guam, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in advance of council meetings there. As we reported in February, the council has, however, held SSC meetings on Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i island in the weeks before the council met in Pacific Island territories.

Double Pay: We reported that SSC and AP members received double the compensation they normally receive when their meetings are held in Honolulu. Three AP members received $800 each and eight SSC members received $1,500 and SSC chair Lynch received $2,000.

The compensation summary provided to Environment Hawai‘i by the council states only that the payments to the AP members and Lynch was for their participation in the 173rd council meeting, and the payments to the rest of the SSC members were for their participation in the 129th SSC meeting.

Spalding, however, stated that they received additional compensation because they “participated in planning sessions, which included interviews with members on future research and changes to management regimes.”

“SSC and AP members are paid compensation in accordance with NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] guidelines for all approved meetings at which they are providing assistance to the council in carrying out its fishery management functions,” she wrote.

Environment Hawai‘i asked her for more detail on these sessions: Were they noticed in the Federal Register? Where were they held and when? With whom? Is there a record of who exactly participated? What were the subjects covered? Is there a record of the outcome of these sessions?

Spalding replied only that all advisory body meetings are publicized. None of these sessions, however, were listed on the council website or noticed in the Federal Register, which is where council and committee meetings are formally publicized. She referred the questions to council staffer Mark Mitsuyasu, who did not provide a response.

What’s more, the Advisory Panel did not have a regular meeting on Maui, so it is unclear why three of its members would be paid double what they’re paid when they actually do meet, and the rest who attended the Maui council meeting weren’t paid at all.

Of the 12 SSC or AP members who received compensation for their attendance at the Maui meetings, only one responded to questions about whether or to what extent they participated in any planning sessions held in addition to their normal duties. SSC member Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington, replied, “I don’t know of any other meetings other than the regular SSC sessions.”

Moral Support: Our June article noted that the council paid to fly in several Advisory Panel members from outside of Maui, even though the panel did not have a scheduled meeting there. Spalding pointed out that AP members contributed significantly to the process leading to an increased Annual Catch Limit (ACL) for Main Hawaiian Islands bottomfish, which was voted on by the council at the June 2018 meeting.

“Maui Nui has historically been the center of Hawai‘i’s bottomfish fishery for its extensive bottomfish habitat and sheltered waters. For this reason, Maui was the appropriate location for [the council] to take action on the Hawai‘i bottomfish ACL because the majority of the fishermen to be affected by the council’s action at this meeting are based in Maui. The council relied on the AP members’ reports and recommendations to inform its decision on this action. Thus, the council benefitted from the presence of the full AP at the June meeting,” Spalding wrote.

Staycation? As we reported in June, the council paid for Advisory Panel member and bottomfish fisher Layne Nakagawa to stay at the Marriott, even though he lives on the island. Spalding explained that the council paid for one night for Nakagawa “as he was requested to participate in an evening meeting regarding the bottomfish fishery. This minimized disruption and allowed him to return to normal fishing operations in a timely manner.” —Teresa Dawson

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