GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

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August 17, 2011

State AG backs push for feds to repay fishing legal costs

The state's attorney general has called upon Congress to pass federal legislation aimed at reimbursing local fishermen for the legal bill they have incurred while appealing excessive fined and penalties imposed by NOAA enforcement as documented by a federal inspector general and special investigator for the U.S. Commerce Department.

In letters sent to the Chairmen of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, Attorney General Coakley expressed her support for two bills filed by Sen. and Commerce committee chief John Kerry and by Congressman Barney Frank that would amend the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the regulatory framework that governs America's fisheries from Gloucester and New England to the West Coast and Alaska.

The bills were filed following an investigation by a federal Inspector General Todd Zinser — and expanded by retired U.S. Judge Robert B. Swartwood III as a special investigative master assigned by former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke — both of whom found that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement engaged in excessive practices that included the filing of a false affidavit, an unauthorized, after-hours entry into the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, and fines that have run up to 500 percent higher than those levied in other parts of the country.

The Frank and Kerry bills would establish a formal process to reimburse fishermen and related businesseas for legal fees incurred while appealing those excessive fines.

"The livelihood of fishermen and the economies of our fishing communities have been greatly harmed by the excessive penalties levied by NOAA, and an appeals process that stacked the decks against them," Coakley said Wednesday in a prepared statement. "These two pieces of legislation are important steps toward restoring fairness and reimbursing our fishermen for the legal fees they incurred while challenging those unfair penalties. I commend Sen. Kerry and Congressman Frank for their leadership on this important issue."

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