Committee Democrats Send Letter Seeking Accountability for Fishery Council’s Mismanagement of Taxpayer Dollars & Improper Lobbying

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii), Rep. Rep. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-CNMI), and Water, Wildlife and Fisheries Subcommittee Ranking Member Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) sent a letter to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) requesting information about the agency’s authority to enforce accountability measures for the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WESPAC). WESPAC has authority over fisheries seaward of state/territorial waters of Hawai‘i and the US Pacific Islands.

Read the full letter to NOAA.

In December 2022, following a scathing report from the Office of Inspector General, NOAA issued a final determination letter concluding that WESPAC would need to repay more than $837,000 in taxpayer funds spent between 2010 and 2020 that could not properly be accounted for. WESPAC, which has been under the leadership of executive director Kitty Simonds for decades, has yet to repay those funds.

WESPAC recently submitted two proposals for repaying the $837,000 in taxpayer dollars: 1) use additional federal funding to deliver on a repayment schedule, or 2) seek debt forgiveness through the Department of Justice.

As the lawmakers write, these proposals are wholly inadequate:

“These actions make taxpayers pay twice for WESPAC’s transgressions. Redirecting new federal funds to repayment or simply forgiving the misspent funds without any accountability for those who oversaw or approved such mishandling of Federal dollars will further erode the public’s trust in our government’s ability to fulfill its duties responsibly.”

The letter also highlights WESPAC’s improper lobbying activities to oppose marine protections and designations:

“WESPAC staff have worked to oppose marine protections and designations for years, providing behind-the-scenes lobbying services to opponents of such designations and organizing rallies in opposition. These and other actions may amount to improper lobbying with Federal funds. While WESPAC has an important role in the potential designation of marine sanctuaries in the Western Pacific under the National Marine Sanctuary Act, their actions should be limited to direct interaction between the Council itself and NOAA and not through improper lobbying.”

In light of WESPAC’s lack of accountability for these actions thus far, the letter requests additional information from NOAA to clarify the agency’s authority to seek reimbursement and put enforcement mechanisms in place, exercise oversight of WESPAC’s expenditures, and enforce spending caps, among other authorities. 

Press Contact

Lindsay Gressard