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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, January 8, 2004

Fisheries criticism is wrong

By Manuel Cruz
Chairman, Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council on Guam

The Dec. 7 commentary by Joshua Reichart, "Fishing industry shouldn't be its own watchdog," is the latest salvo in the Pew Charitable Trusts' campaign to marginalize U.S. fishermen.

Congress established the eight regional fisheries management councils to include the principal stakeholders in the management process, while creating transparent checks and balances. All decisions reached by the councils are subject to review by the National Marine Fisheries Service and other federal government branches, and require final approval by the secretary of commerce.

Reichart's citation of a study that states that 99.6 percent of all council measures were approved by the secretary means the secretary and the staff reviewing council measures are either dummies asleep at the wheel or the council is doing a good job.

Reichart suggests that less than one-quarter of U.S. fish stocks are being fished sustainably. However, if you consult the National Marine Fisheries Service's document "The Status of U.S. Fisheries" (www.nmfs.noaa.gov/sfa/reports.html), you will see that the facts support a very different story. Only about one-quarter of U.S. stocks are overfished, and an increasing number of stocks are being rebuilt.

Reichart insinuates that the presence of "greedy" fishermen on the councils somehow taints the purity of the science, making it impossible for the councils to make rational conservation decisions. However, Reichart neglects to state that NMFS is already responsible for most of the stock assessments on which the councils base their decisions.

The councils may or may not choose to accept advice from the NMFS, but the service calls the shots and ultimately advises on approval or disapproval to the commerce secretary. Moreover, having fishermen serve on the councils does not automatically imply their majority of council membership or that all votes support unbridled exploitation of marine resources.

The Western Pacific Council's current membership includes eight state, territorial and federal government bureaucrats, three commercial fishermen from American Samoa, Guam and Hawai'i, and five recreational fishery representatives from Hawai'i, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands. Like other council members, they were nominated by state and territorial governors and appointed by the secretary of commerce, who presumably is not asleep on the job.

The council process has worked well over the last 25 years. It works as Congress intended, to allow all stakeholders a voice in the management process, that it be transparent and that it provide government with the veto power on council recommendations.

Reichart claims that the public suffers through this alleged conflict of interest. Of greater public interest perhaps is why this oil industry-funded private foundation, answerable to no one other than its board members, has such an animus to U.S. fishermen, and commercial fishermen in particular. And how the Pew Oceans Program is donating huge dollar amounts to universities to fund "junk science" to back up the Pew perspective.