Written by Adrianne Madden
January 22, 2010
Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser has completed his nationwide review of NOAA's fisheries law enforcement practices, and found them lacking.
So now what?
Well, Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator, said in a press statement Thursday that she's directed the agency's enforcement and legal offices to take steps to promote "greater transparency in law enforcement, ensure fairness in penalties and improve lines of communication with commercial and recreational fishermen."
Her direction comes on the heels of Zinser's report, which, among other things, states that the agency's law enforcement operation lacks organization, guidelines and oversight.
Other than that, though, things are great...
The report also found that criminal investigators make up 90 percent of the Office of Law Enforcement's staff even though 98 percent of its cases concern non-criminal infractions, and that heavy fines are issued without consistency and without review.
Lubchenco had requested that the Inspector General conduct the review in June 2009 after complaints from the fishing industry, senators and congressmen about NOAA fisheries law enforcement reached a crescendo. Northeast fishermen have been particularly critical of the agency's enforcement tactics, which they say have been unnecessarily heavy-handed.
Now NOAA must rebuild a relationship with fishermen that because of enforcement actions has become unnecessarily adversarial. To that end, Lubchenco says NOAA will convene a national summit on enforcement policies and practices (no date has been set yet) "in order to hear from constituents and experts in the field."
Commercial and recreational fishing representatives as well as folks from the environmental community, academic institutions and outside experts from law enforcement will take part in the summit, she says. Lubchenco further states she will work to implement the recommendations that emerge from the summit.
If NOAA is serious about working to improve its fisheries law enforcement practice, that's good news. But fishermen, the related businesses and fishing communities that have been most impacted by the adversarial approach, will be the final judges of whether those practices actually improve.
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