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Additional Reforms To NOAA's Law Enforcement

US - US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced that he would allow fishermen and businesses until May 6, 2011 to submit complaints about potentially excessive enforcement penalties to the Special Master for review, as well as request stays of their penalties as part of the complaint process.

This is part of a series of ongoing improvements to NOAA’s Law Enforcement System. The Secretary and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco also announced policy changes aimed at strengthening, simplifying and improving both the enforcement and regulatory process for fishermen and businesses.

The announcement comes on the heels of Mr Locke’s appointment of a Special Master to review enforcement cases, and significant changes implemented by NOAA to policies, procedures and oversight guidelines in response to recommendations from the Commerce Inspector General based on a review of the enforcement program he conducted at NOAA’s request last year.

“Additional review is necessary to ensure NOAA’s enforcement system is accountable and transparent. As a former prosecutor, I expect our law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public’s trust,” Mr Locke said. “Recently, Judge Swartwood indicated that reviewing a wider pool of cases would be appropriate. I decided to act immediately. We want to provide those fishermen who believe they have been wronged with an opportunity to have their complaints heard.”

The additional enforcement reforms taken by Secretary Locke and NOAA include:

  • Opening an appeal window to allow fisherman and businesses that wish to come forward to submit a complaint to the Special Master.
  • Allowing fishermen and businesses to request a stay of penalty payment as part of the complaint process.
  • Issuing a new nationwide penalty policy that provides consistency and greater transparency on the assessment of penalties and permit sanctions throughout the country.
  • Finalising the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) Use Policy that greatly restricts the uses of the Fund in order to ensure there is no conflict of interest – real or perceived – with the use of the Fund.
  • Launching an independent audit of the AFF that will include a targeted review of transactions going back to 2004 to determine if there was fraud or other illegal activity.
  • Working with fishery councils, fishermen and stakeholders to streamline and simplify fishing regulations.

“We are committed to sustaining and growing fishing jobs, which are the lifeblood of so many of our coastal communities. The reforms put in place thus far and announced today are vital to ensuring the fair and effective enforcement we all need to succeed,” said Dr Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator.

the Fish Site Editor

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