GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Fishing Industry Stories

December 14, 2012

Redress for NOAA law cases

14 fishing entities to split $564,794

Without an apology, the Commerce Department on Friday closed the book on past violations of fishing industry rights by NOAA law enforcers with a carefully reasoned memorandum.

The memorandum adopted most but not all of the recommendations of a special judicial master whose second volume of case studies found reason for reparations or the forgiveness of unpaid fines in 18 of 63 cases.

In all, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca M. Blank approved $564,794 in reparations (or “remissions”) in 14 cases and forgave debts of $161,266.66 in two others.

Together with $649,527 in reparations from the first volume of case studies by the special master, Charles B. Swartwood III, in May, 2011, NOAA will have paid or forgiven $2,375,587.66 to settle the score with the fishing industry.

Blank took minute exception in a number of cases studied and analyzed in a 554-page report that was not released with the secretarial memorandum decision, which in turn was released after a press release explaining that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had fixed its law enforcement problems. The release, from the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, also said that the reparations and adjusted settlements demonstrated an extraordinary effort by NOAA to set things right with the fishing industry.

The announcement of the second volume of settlements was made by email in late morning, giving the press no one to question, and at least until late in the day, no access to the work product of the special master (which was posted about 5:30 p.m. Friday, too late to be studied for today’s Times).

This approach was in contrast to the news conference held in Gloucester in May 2011 by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who was directed to meet with fishermen, issue an apology on behalf of then Commerce Secretary Gary Locke (now ambassador to China) and announce the reparations.

Blank issued no apology, and instead emphasized that the transgressions were a small minority of the cases studied by Swartwood and that NOAA had learned from the first Swartwood report, fixing the dysfunctions in law enforcement, notably agents and lawyers “left on their own with unbridled discretion and insufficient guidance.”

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