Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco held a press conference — excuse me, a “media availability” — to announce Locke’s decisions on Special Master Charles W. Smartwood III’s report on enforcement cases, some dating back to the early 2000s, that Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser identified as problematic.
Locke appointed Smartwood, a retired judge and former Chief Magistrate Judge of the U.S. District Court in Massachusetts, to review 30 cases the IG pinpointed. Smartwood’s report concluded that NOAA’s enforcement program had “overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness.”
In response, Locke announced that $649,527 in returned fisheries enforcement penalties will be returned to 11 individuals or businesses. Former New Bedford, Mass. sea scallop fisherman Lawrence Yacubian, who will receive $400,000, and the Gloucester, Mass., Seafood Display Auction, which will receive $16,515, are among those receiving reparations.
Locke said he was accepting all of his recommendations that the law allows and taking additional action in several cases.
“As a former prosecutor, I expect our entire law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public’s trust,” Locke said. “Enforcement has to be fair, uniform and consistent.”
To that end, Locke announced a number of steps to rectify enforcement problems Zinser and Smartwood identified. And according to Locke they also signify NOAA’s desire to repair the dysfunctional relationship between New England’s embattled fishing industry and the federal agency that manages it. Locke and Lubchenco even went so far as to issue a formal apology to the region’s fishermen who were wronged by overzealous enforcement actions.
“Today we acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, apologies to the fishermen and businesses hurt by these mistakes and rededicate ourselves to work with the fishing industry to sustain and grow fishing jobs,” Lubchenco said. “I believe today marks a major turning point in NOAA’s relationship with America’s fishermen, and in particular fishermen in New England.”