Fishery penalties returned to 11 fishermen

28 May 2011

US Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has announced that $649,527 in fisheries enforcement penalties will be returned to 11 individuals or businesses.

This comes after an independent review of their cases concluded the NOAA enforcement program had in some instances “overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness.” In his decisionmemo, Secretary Locke acted on 30 cases reviewed by the Special Master, Judge Charles Swartwood III, accepting all of his recommendations that the law allows and taking additional actions in several cases.

“As a former prosecutor, I expect our entire law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public’s trust. Enforcement has to be fair, uniform and consistent. I accepted all of the Special Master's recommendations in every instance where I have authority to do so under Magnuson-Stevens Act, and in some cases I went beyond the Special Master’s recommendation,” said Secretary Locke. “In addition, we are implementing additional reforms to make regulations and enforcement more fair and effective. We inherited this decades-old problem, but it’s ending on my watch.”

Among the businesses and fishermen who will receive returned penalties are the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction ($16,515) and former New Bedford sea scallop fisherman Lawrence Yacubian ($400,000), whose cases date back to the early 2000s. During the period of time associated with the 30 reviewed cases, NOAA investigated over 40,000 incidents and issued penalties or sanctions in about 6,000 cases. Judge Swartwood is currently reviewing approximately 80 additional applications that were received during a recent application period. The applications that meet the standards set forth in Secretary Locke’s March 2011 Decision Memorandum will receive further review.

“Today we acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, apologise to the fishermen and businesses hurt by these mistakes, and rededicate ourselves to work with the fishing industry to sustain and grow fishing jobs,” said Dr Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “Since coming into office two years ago, I made reform of our fisheries enforcement program a top priority. I believe today marks a major turning point in NOAA’s relationship with America’s fishermen, and in particular fishermen in New England.”

Judge Swartwood's 236-page report may be found at http://www.noaa.gov/lawenforcementupdates/specialmasterreport.pdf.

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