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October 30, 2011

Feds eye new probe of NOAA

The Commerce Department's inspector general is turning a critical eye again to the federal government's regulation of commercial fishing, based on complaints emanating from the industry and a request by Massachusetts' congressmen.

After exposing a federal fisheries law enforcement system that treated New England fishermen as criminals by denying their rights and extracting excessive fines that were improperly used, Inspector General Todd Zinser has now announced his office will now examine "rulemaking" at NOAA and its regional fishery management council.

Eric Schwaab, NOAA's assistant administrator for fisheries, said he welcomed the "review as another opportunity to improve fisheries management." (See full statement in related story).

But, among his expressed interests, Zinser said he would evaluate how the New England Fishery Management Council operated and complied with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

He especially put a focus on the so-called Standard 8, which directs NOAA and the councils for the eight regions — including New England — to take into account the "socioeconomic impact of actions on fishermen and fishing communities."

The IG's announcement comes as multiple studies of the social and economic harm to the fishing communities from the way the federal government instituted commodity trading system in catch shares are being readied for submission to NOAA as the foundation for a disaster declaration.

Zinser made his announcement in a letter to Congressmen. John Tierney and Barney Frank — who represent Gloucester and New Bedford, where mistrust of rulemaking has become rampant, and is thought by many, including New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang, to be manipulated by non-government, anti-fishing activists.

Zinser decided to take the assignment after discussions with Tierney and Frank and members of the fishing community.

"For too long, concerns have been raised about the fairness and transparency of the rules and regulations impacting our fishermen," Tierney said in a statement. "The inspector general's decision to investigate NOAA fisheries rulemaking is a positive development, and I appreciate Mr. Zinser's willingness to conduct this important work."

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