NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco has instructed the agency’s head attorney and its top fisheries manager to take immediate and long-term actions to improve the agency’s enforcement and legal operations and enhance its relationship with the fishing community.
In a memo, Dr. Lubchenco directed NOAA General Counsel Lois Schiffer, and NOAA Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Jim Balsiger, to take a two-part approach to responding to the Jan. 21 recommendations by the Commerce Department’s Inspector General that reviewed the policies and practices of NOAA’s fisheries enforcement system. Lubchenco requested the review in June 2009 after listening to concerns of fishermen and Congress.
“I take this report very seriously and I want a comprehensive approach to addressing both the IG’s observations and the perceptions of fishermen. Fish are a public resource that should be protected through proper regulation and enforcement for the benefit of Americans, coastal economies and the marine environment. We can’t manage effectively without trust,” said Dr. Lubchenco. “Taking these steps will help us resolve the issues identified by the Inspector General and enhance our efforts to work with the fishing industry and public in a more constructive manner.”
NOAA will implement the following immediate actions:
1. Subject to compliance with applicable labor relations requirements, institute higher level reviews of proposed charging decisions, penalties, permit sanctions, and settlements to ensure consistency and predictability and to avoid the appearance of arbitrary decision making.
2. Institute a freeze on hiring criminal investigators until a work force analysis is done and approved by Dr. Lubchenco that will address the appropriate mix of criminal investigators and regulatory inspectors in the enforcement office.
3. Shift oversight of the Civil Monetary Penalties Fund (also known as the Assets Forfeiture Fund), where penalties are accrued, from NOAA’s Fisheries Service to NOAA’s comptroller.
4. Improve communications on enforcement issues, particularly in the Northeast. This will include actions that enhance understanding of fisheries regulations and transparency of enforcement actions.
5. Develop specific objectives and detailed plans for a summit on law enforcement practices to be held no later than June 30. The summit will provide a venue to develop forward thinking approaches and long-range policies for properly executing enforcement actions to protect living marine resources.
NOAA will develop, by March 21, long-term strategies that:
1. Improve data integrity and address inefficiencies of the management information systems used by the enforcement office and the enforcement attorneys, including using the Internet to increase transparency.
2. Implement standardized procedures for setting enforcement priorities that will help ensure consistency among regions while addressing regional needs. Ensure NOAA leadership has input.
3. Strengthen enforcement attorney operating procedures, prosecution of charged cases, and settlement actions. This includes revising procedural regulations and penalty schedules for consistency and clarity.
4. Implement an outreach strategy to improve relations with local fisheries communities and improve understanding of fisheries regulations and enforcement activities. This includes increasing rapport between NOAA and fishermen in order to improve communications and informal problem solving.
5. Develop a plan to review law enforcement staffing and procedures with a focus on ensuring that criminal procedures are not applied to civil offenses. Development of the plan should include appropriate independent review.
These ten initial steps are intended to begin to resolve the issues identified by the IG. NOAA will build upon these steps to develop a comprehensive plan that responds to all of the IG’s recommendations.
Dr. Lubchenco’s memo is available online at http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/PDFs/IGReportMemorandum.pdf.
The IG report is available online at http://www.oig.doc.gov/oig/.
The more than 200 agents and attorneys in NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement and the Office of the General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation are responsible for ensuring compliance with more than 35 statutes, including the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Endangered Species Act. Their jurisdiction covers more than three million square miles of open ocean, more than 85,000 miles of U.S. coastline, the nation’s 13 national marine sanctuaries and its marine national monuments. As part of their mission to protect our nation’s marine resources by ensuring compliance with fisheries laws and regulations, they help to protect fish stocks, marine mammals, and the marine environment, as well as the livelihoods of law-abiding commercial and recreational fishermen.
source: NOAA press release