A New Threat: WESPAC
What is WESPAC?
It stands for
the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council
and it has come to our attention
that much of the mischief we have had to battle
in the legislature these past few years
has very probably been stirred up by
A Brief Background
WESPAC is one of the eight federal fishery management councils which were formed as a result of the Magnuson Act of 1976. These councils manage fisheries in the federal waters of all coastal states as well as U.S. territories and protectorates. WESPAC is in charge of the waters surrounding Hawaii, Guam, the Northern Mariannas, American Samoa and the U.S. line islands such as Johnston Atoll and Wake Island.
Federal waters consist of waters out to 200 miles from any emergent (i.e. above water) land. In Hawaii, state waters extend out from the shoreline to 3 miles out, and federal waters go from 3 miles to 200 miles. These federal waters are called the EEZ, or the Exclusive Economic Zone.
Council members are chosen from a list of candidates submitted by the state governor to the Secretary of Commerce in Washington, D.C. Although it seems straight-forward enough, it is clear that a good deal of politicking goes on in this selection process, as the same people seem to get chosen time and time again. Unfortunately some of those people who keep getting on the Council are not especially disinterested parties. The current council chair, owner of one of the largest longline fleets in the Pacific, has been chair a number of times in the past and allegedly was convicted three times of violating the very regulations he put in place.
The Council is served by a permanent staff, headed by an executive director, who is hired by the Council as a whole. The present ED is named Kitty Simonds and she has been ED for close to 30 years. She is allegedly one of the highest paid persons in the U.S. government, right up there with the president and vice-president. The executive director never changes and the council people rarely change. They have a good thing going.
Some Interesting Trends
There have been a number of startling high points in WESPAC's ongoing mismanagement of Hawaii's fisheries but several that stand out are:
The longline industry was having a disastrous impact on the highly-endangered loggerhead turtles and leatherback turtles. WESPAC didn't do anything about it until an environmental group took them to court and a federal judge ordered a complete shutdown of the longline industry in Pacific federal waters for two years. After that, the longline industry was allowed to resume with carefully crafted limits on turtle interactions. Last October, WESPAC discussed removing some of those limits because, after all, "Mexico kills way more turtles that we do."
About ten years ago the lobster industry in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands was in trouble. Overfishing had made it difficult to catch lobsters in the legal size range so, sources tell us, WESPAC removed the size limits and said take whatever you can catch. The lobster industry crashed and has, to this day, failed to recover. Since the primary food source of the highly endangered monk seal is lobster, the seals began having to hunt fish, which puts the smaller monk seals in danger from tiger sharks as they have to go farther afield than hunting in caves for lobsters. As we all know, the populations of monk seals are declining. Nevertheless, a recent study by WESPAC showed that "no lobsters were found in samples from monk seal stomachs, so lobsters clearly are not a food source for monk seals." Therefore, it is not WESPAC's fault, they claim. There was no examination of the fact that there are no lobsters left for the monk seals to eat.
But Why Are They A Threat?
The Northwest Hawaiian Islands are virtually uninhabited. This has spared these rich waters from the harmful effects of human population on local fisheries. The NWHI are some of the richest and most pristine coral reefs left on earth. Many consider that they may eventually be the last coral reefs left on earth. However, WESPAC, which gets money for each fishery it "manages," wants to keep fishing there.
When the President made the NWHI a national monument, the rules said that ALL fishing there would be phased out in 2011. WESPAC was furious. They tried to get their hands on the state waters around the NWHI but the state followed the federal example and state waters will also prohibit fishing there. WESPAC was even more furious.
In the last two years we have found lots of evidence that WESPAC was behind the bills promoting fishing, but more importantly, limiting the power of the state to set aside areas where fishing is banned. The first year this came up the bill would have prevented the state from making the NWHI, among other places, a no-fishing area. WESPAC still wants to get its hands on control of state waters because a) it will make up for whatever fishing was lost with the creation of the monument, and b) because they can then do what they like with our resources. Their record on resource management has been dismal and we at LOST FISH do not want them managing our reef fishes as well.
We will keep you informed of any thing we need you to do. If you want some more horrifying details about WESPAC and federal complaints against them you can go to: