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Commerce Secretary Locke Announces Additional Measure to Improve New England Fishery Enforcement

Monday, September 27, 2010

Commerce Secretary also announces availability of funding for fishery research

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke traveled to Boston, Mass., and Portland, Maine, today to meet with local fishermen and elected officials to discuss the review of enforcement cases and changes he made to the Asset Forfeiture Fund. Locke announced the launch of an e-hotline to report unfair enforcement actions or other breaches of conduct by NOAA enforcement agents or attorneys.  This Enforcement Complaint e-Hotline – found on – will allow stakeholders to anonymously report any issues directly to NOAA Headquarters.

“NOAA is committed to improving its communications with its constituents and stakeholders, even if it means hearing criticism,” Locke said. “Any complaints received will be reviewed and, as necessary, investigated further. This e-hotline provides the fishing community a mechanism for raising issues about NOAA law enforcement without fear of reprisal.”

“I want to thank Secretary Locke for meeting directly with members of the Massachusetts fishing industry and for talking candidly about the sense of urgency that the fleets are feeling because of changes in rules and because of experiences with the enforcement authorities at NOAA. The Secretary has taken some action to reform the enforcement processes at NOAA and to assure that there is a way for those who have been aggrieved to have their cases reconsidered and I know that there was appreciation within the room and among the fleet for that,” Patrick said. “We need action as well on the catch limits and we need it now. We’ve been talking about this for some while about how we need to find a way to really acknowledge the joint interests of conservationists and those in the fishing industry and having a sustainable stock around fishing. That has to be based on cooperative science, and Secretary Locke is providing us with resources to enable us to get on with that.”

“I welcome this step to provide fairness in law enforcement and I thank Secretary Locke for his leadership,” said Frank.  “But we still must address the vital issue of low catch allocations in the ground fish industry, and I will continue to work with the Secretary to fix this problem.”

"I'm so glad the Secretary got to hear from innovative Maine fishermen – who are leaders in New England – on what further steps we should take to address serious problems in fisheries enforcement," said Pingree.  "Improving trust between fishermen and fisheries managers is absolutely critical to the future of our coastal communities. Both the changes to ensure unbiased enforcement and the cooperative research funding announced today will make great strides in that direction."

Last Thursday, Locke announced sweeping reforms to increase accountability, and strengthen the public’s trust in NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and the General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation. Locke appointed Judge Charles Swartwood as a Special Master to review enforcement cases the Commerce Department’s Inspector General identified in its most recent report as problematic, some dating as far back as 2001. Locke also restricted use of the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF), effective immediately, to prevent abuse and increase transparency. The new policy prohibits 50 percent of the Fund’s historical uses.

"Fair and effective enforcement is critical to successful fishery management, vibrant coastal communities and stable economies,” Locke said. "That is why Dr. Lubchenco asked the Inspector General to conduct its review, and it is why she has acted aggressively to reform NOAA's enforcement program."

Locke, joined by Governor Deval Patrick and U.S. Rep. Barney Frank in Massachusetts and by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree in Maine, also announced more than $3 million in funding for cooperative research projects that will help New England fishermen reduce bycatch and participate in conservation research that benefits the industry and the fisheries.

“These funds will support a real-time network to help fishermen more easily find the fish they want to catch,” said Locke.

The eight research projects to be conducted jointly by 25 experts in academia, government and the commercial fishing industry will measurably improve the fishing industry’s ability to avoid catching unwanted animals, including those from fishery stocks with low annual catch limits.   The awards also represent the next step in developing a regional network of experts who can sustain and advance gear designs that reduce waste and inefficiency in the region’s mixed-species fisheries.

“We put a premium on those projects best suited to building a strong, organized effort for the long haul, one that encourages broad, substantial fishing industry engagement in planning and conducting gear research,” Eric Schwaab, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries said. “An overarching goal of the awards is to establish a regional network of expertise that can be called on to take on similar projects in the future for all Northeast fisheries.”

For details on cooperative research partners and the projects, visit us on the web at: