A common complaint we hear about the nation's regional fishery management councils is the apparent conflict of interest some members have in voting on the issues.
To some degree, these conflicts are by design and unavoidable. The councils make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The council system gives people most affected by fishery management decisions — commercial fish harvesters, for example — a seat at the table.
To make sure the public knows who's who, council members are obliged to file federal financial disclosure forms reflecting their involvement in the fisheries, or in lobbying and advocacy.
Sounds good, right? Keep everything above board at least.
But current financial disclosure practices are weak and need improvement, says a new report from the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General.
A review of 72 disclosure forms turned up numerous instances of incomplete information, the inspector general says.
The report says it's essentially up to council members themselves to judge what information to disclose, and NMFS "does not independently verify the information."
Further, council executive staffs don't feel much empowered to deal with suspected misreporting on the disclosure forms, the report says.
The inspector general says NMFS should strengthen financial disclosure requirements and procedures. Specifically, the agency should do formal reviews of financial interest disclosures, and should tighten policy on identifying and handling conflicts of interest.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, based in Anchorage, has 11 voting members. Four are government officials from Alaska, Washington and Oregon.
The rest are from the private sector; their financial disclosures forms are posted here.
NMFS has told the inspector general it accepts all the recommendations in the report, and will implement them.
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