THE CATS WHO RUN THE FISH HOUSE
By PAUL KOBERSTEIN
Imagine the CEO of Weyerhaeuser appointed to run the national forests. As part of the deal, he gets to keep his old job. Federal law wouldn't allow it, of course. It's a simple conflict of interest. But when it comes to the folks who regulate ocean fishing, conflicts of interest are not only permissible, they're a regular part of the game.
Consider Sean Martin of Hawaii, and the four hats he wears. As a fisherman, Martin earns a living from the sea. He owns a business that sells equipment so others can, too. As an activist, he heads a trade group that is fighting environmental regulations to protect endangered sea turtles. And as a regulator, he recently voted to open fishing in areas and ways that have been proven harmful to endangered species. Martin and his business partner, Jim Cook - himself a council member in 1990s - have had it both ways: they help make the rules, and they profit from the rules. And on occasion, Martin and Cook have been prosecuted for breaking those very rules.
Martin is one of 13 members of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (known as "Wespac"), a position Cook held throughout the 1990s. Congress created the council in 1976 as one of eight that govern U.S. waters in the Atlantic, Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific. Wespac governs close to 50 percent of U.S.waters, an area of ocean as large as the other councils' areas combined.