Does an MFC member have a conflict of interest in the striper trawler debate?
The NC Marine Fisheries Committee (MFC) is meeting February 11,2011, and one of the issues that will be brought up for discussion is the recent striped bass kills by the trawler boats operating off the Outer Banks. I have written a series of articles about these kills, in which both legal and undersized striped bass appeared to be discarded dead as the trawlers practice “culling” and bring home bigger fish worth more money.
The result of these operations have been miles-long wakes of wasted dead stripers, and the depressing response from the state government has been that this apparently happens all the time. The only difference is that this year the kills were close enough to be photographed and videoed.
The Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) has chosen to open the fishery up twice since the first mass kill was reported. However, those actions are now subject to the MFC so that at least there is hope that something can be done about this outrageous wasteful practice of killing all these big striped bass.
Here’s where we run into a little problem. We want the MFC to take action to stop the striper waste in the trawl fishery. But can we expect a fair hearing on this?
Mikey Daniels is a commercial waterman who manages the Wanchese Fish Company. He sits on the MFC as a voting member, and has debated and voted about these issues in the past. I have also been told that he has a direct financial interest in the trawl fishery and owns one of the striper trawlers that participates in it.
You can see where I would be concerned. So I asked MFC Chairman Rob Bizzell about this apparent conflict of interest. This was Mr. Bizzell’s response:
“I understand, from an indirect source,” said Mr. Bizzell, “that he has one trawler that could participate in that fishery. Whether or not he participates in the fishery, I do not know. Mikey, like all Commissioners, must decide if their vote and participation on the Commission will result in a direct monetary gain. If so, they must recuse themselves. As I do with all Commissioners, I trust Mikey to make the right decision.”
I sent an email to Mr. Daniels asking about this, but did not get a reply. Please understand that I don’t think anyone has done anything wrong…yet. But, I really can’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of a striper trawler boat owner debating and voting as a government official on what the regulations for his own vessel should be.
I noticed that in the press release the DMF put out about the upcoming MFC meeting a paragraph was added at the bottom which goes right to the heart of these matters. This is what it said:
Executive Order 34 orders that in transacting board business, each person appointed by the governor shall act always in the best interest of the pubic without regard for her or his financial interests. To this end, each appointee must recuse herself or himself from voting on any matter on which the appointee has a financial interest. Commissioners having questions about a conflict of interest or appearance of conflict should consult with counsel to the Marine Fisheries Commission or the secretary’s ethics liaison. Upon discovering a conflict consistent with Executive Order 34, the commissioner should inform the chair of the commission in accordance with N.C.G.S. 138A-15(e).
I guess we will just have to wait and see if MFC member Mikey Daniels recuses himself from voting on the striped bass trawler issue or not. If he does, then I guess it isn’t an issue. If he doesn’t, then I hope the chairman’s trust is warranted.
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