NOAA takes steps to improve fisheries law enforcement

27 Jan 2010

NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco

Jane Lubchenco has directed the agency to take steps to promote greater transparency in law enforcement, ensure fairness in penalties, and improve lines of communication with commercial and recreational fishermen.

The action comes in response to a Commerce Department Inspector General nationwide review that outlines several recommendations to improve NOAA’s enforcement operations. Dr Lubchenco, NOAA's Administrator, requested the review in June 2009 after hearing concerns about NOAA enforcement from some members of the fishing community and Congress.

“Rebuilding our fisheries and sustaining the jobs and coastal communities that depend on them is a goal we share with the fishing public,” said Dr Lubchenco. “As fishermen know, having an enforcement program that is transparent and perceived as fair and accountable is central to sustainable fishery management. This nationwide review shows that we can do a better job in this regard. We will take steps to improve the system and to reinforce confidence in the system - in the interest of the fisheries resource and all who are dependent upon its viability.”

One of the recommendations is for NOAA to develop more uniform policies and procedures where appropriate. To that end, Dr Lubchenco has asked NOAA’s new general counsel, Lois Schiffer, to lead a high level review of existing policies and procedures, and recommend ways to increase coordination and consistency, transparency, accountability, and fairness nationwide in agency law enforcement efforts.

Dr Lubchenco also announced that NOAA will convene a national summit on enforcement policies and practices in order to hear from constituents and experts in the field. The summit will include representatives from the commercial fishing industry, the recreational fishing community, environmental groups, academic institutions, and outside experts from law enforcement, as well as significant participation by NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement and the Office of the General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation.

The IG also noted that NOAA’s General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation has already started making improvements to policies and procedures that will lead to increased coordination and consistency in law enforcement efforts, calling them a "good start to building transparency."

These steps include:

  • Revising procedural regulations and the penalty schedule
  • Developing an internal operations and procedural manual
  • Establishing a new case tracking database that links enforcement and legal case management systems
  • Increasing communications with the Fishery Management Councils, especially in the Northeast US
  • Providing explanatory notes to case files
  • Tracking priorities
  • Providing public access to information on charges brought and cases concluded

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