By Richard Gaines
---- — Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank today announced the decision to make reparations totaling $543,500 to 14 victims of fisheries law enforcement excesses and forgive another $151,266.66 for two other complainants whose cases were studied by a special judicial master.
The reparations and forgiveness of debt were decided based on series of 66 case studies by the master, Charles B. Swartwood III, whose report totalling more than 500 pages was submitted to Blank more than eight months ago.
The announcement of the decisions to resolve the complaints against law enforcement actions taken by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agents was made about noon, and was not immediately accompanied by the report itself. The announcement did not identify the cases, making it impossible to know any details.
“Today marks the end of an extensive investigation into the conduct of NOAA’s enforcement program going back nearly two decades,” said Blank. “In the course of acknowledging and rectifying mistakes, NOAA has instituted sweeping changes to its enforcement program to ensure that fisheries enforcement is fair and effective. It’s time to close the door on this chapter of NOAA’s past and move forward.”
The announcement, however, said, Blank released the report. The Department of Commerce communications office did not respond to calls.
Case studies were being sent to attorneys for complaints beginning about 11 a.m.
Blank’s release said Swartwood was initially commissioned to conduct case studies based on a national investigation into law enforcement excesses concentrated in the office of agents and litigators in Gloucester where NOAA has its Northeast offices.
Swartwood initial report, released in May 2011, concluded that 11 fishing businesses were severely wronged by the misconduct of the law enforcers, and then Commerce Secretary Gary Locke granted more than $650,000 in reparations. Locke also issued an apology, issued on his behalf in Gloucester by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubehenco.
The secretarial decision in 2011 was released along with the redacted 236-page report by the special master.
The Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, the linchpin business of the Ciulla family, now defunct, was featured as the focus of mistreatment of various kinds by law enforcers, who used false information to get a search warrant, made a break-in of the facility and attempted to coerce fishermen to testify against the Ciullas.
U.S. Sen. John Kerry issued a statement about the announcement. In it, he said, “I’d heard so many horror stories from our fishermen which is why I requested this investigation three years ago. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an investigatory process like this go back eighteen years to right wrongs and dig into the history of multiple Administrations.
“Obviously it’s again confirmed and exposed the stories so many fishermen brought to me in the first place, and while it can’t undo the damage that was done to peoples’ livelihoods, I still believe that getting the truth out and providing economic relief and reparations is key to repairing the damage in the relationship between our fishermen and enforcement authorities.”
Richard Gaines may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x 3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org