GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

December 6, 2012

Update: Push made for release of fish law abuse cases

By Richard Gaines
Staff Writer

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The chairman of a U.S. House Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight today asked the acting secretary of commerce for a copy of the second volume of case studies into into alleged abuse of law enforcement authority at the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as a report on recommendations for the agency. The case studies and report were completed and submitted by a special judicial master to the Secretary of Commerce eight months ago.

Congressman Paul Broun, chairman of the subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, also asked Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank for "a complete and unredacted" copy of the original report into fisheries law enforcement abuses of industry businesses, which was released in redacted form in May 2011. Broun, a Georgia Republican, wrote to Blank a day after U.S. Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, wrote to Blank urging her to release the second volume or case studies by the special judicial master.

As recently as Nov. 18, a Kerry spokesman said, "We believe" the second report by the special master, Charles B. Swartwood III, will be made public "very soon."

"The perceived delay in releasing the report has resulted in further eroding of public trust in the agency," Kerry said in his letter Wednesday to Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. He said he wanted the report released "immediately, or at the very least, no later than the end of the year."

The Commerce Department, which oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which in turn oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, did not immediately respond to queries about the Kerry letter.

Since spring, Broun has been attempting without success to get the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration travel records for top executives, including Administrator Jane Lubchenco and Eric Schwaab, her choice to head the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In his third letter, dated Nov. 28, seeking travel records, Broun wrote to Lubchenco that "this level of recalcitrance mocks the notion of transpaency."

Released in May 2011, the first volume of case studies by Swartwood, a retired federal judicial magistrate and chairman of the Massachusetts Ethics Commission, resulted in a cabinet-level apology to 11 victims within the fishing industry — Gloucester- and New Bedford-based — of law enforcement misconduct, and more than $650,000 in reparations were distributed.

The redacted first volume also brought frustration to the fishing industry by leaving provocative uncertainties. As an example, six lines of a paragraph written by the judicial master that concluded with the statement that "money" was the motivation for the handling of the cases was blacked out.

The then secretary of commerce, Gary Locke, decided also to jettison National Marine Fisheries Service on the U.S. Coast Guard administrative law judge system that oversaw the cases and shift them to the system used at the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Coast Guard judges expressed fury at Swartwood for concluding there was a widespread belief that the fishing industry could not expect fairness and justice in cases they tried, and have continued to lobby to reverse the decision to drop their services.

Other members of the congressional delegation — notably U.S. Sen. Scott Brown and Congrssman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann — have been more pointed in their complaints about the delay in releasing the second volume of Swartwood's case studies, and both of them, as well as Congressman Barney Frank, who represents New Bedford, have called for the firing of NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.

She originally intended to ignore cases of justice miscarried against industry businesses, which were brought to light by Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser. Zinser's investigations also revealed abuse of the asset forfeiture fund — fines paid by industry, which were found to be much heavier in the Northeast region than other regions — and document shedding by the then NOAA Law Enforcement Director Dale Jones.

Lubchenco chose not to punish anyone, although Jones and the entire cadre of agents and lawyers based in Gloucester were reassigned.