Dale J. Jones, the embattled head of law enforcement at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been replaced today by NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco, according to multiple unofficial sources.
Jones' 11-year tenure at NOAA was made tenuous in January when the Inspector General for the Department of Commerce filed a 28-page report on a national study showing misadministration of the office.Lubchenco delayed deciding on Jones' fate until a followup investigation into the alleged shredding of documents was complete and submitted. It is believed that the report on those charges was delivered to Lubchenco by the IG's office in recent days.
Replacing Jones, according to the sources, will be Alan Risenhoover, who has been heading NOAA's Office of Sustainable Fisheries. But it is unclear whether Jones has been fired, placed on suspension, paid or unpaid leave or dealt some other type of disciplinary action. A NOAA announcement from new fisheries chief Eric Schwaab naming Risenhoover to the post does not even mention Jones.
The change at the top of NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement brought widespread reaction today from officials who have backed fishermen in their longstanding complaints of heavy-handed enforcement tactics by NOAA agents. U.S. Sen. John Kerry and Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank, who had urged Lubchenco to fire Jones, reacted positively to the transition.
"Now we start over with Alan Risenhoover who has long been an advocate for our fishermen," Kerry said in a prepared statement this afternoon. "I again request a delay in active prosecutions on NOAA enforcement actions which may be tainted by the problems within the NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. "
Tierney said, "Today's action by NOAA to appoint a new acting director for OLE is a step in the right direction."
He intends to seek the "public release of a new IG report on the unacceptable behavior and work practices of Mr. Jones. This is imperative and only fair to those in the fishing community who have been unjustly targeted for so long.
"While this not a cause for celebration, it is clearly an improvement," said Frank.
State Rep. Ann-Margaret Ferrante, D-Gloucester, a lawyer who had represented the auction-business, mobilized the leadership of the Massachusettss Legislature to appeal to Congress for an investigation into “vindictive” actions against the auction, the linchpin of the port economy and the number one platform for the sale of fish from the Gulf of Maine.
"Today, we saw the start of the application of checks and balanced being applied,” said Ferrante.”Hopefully, this is the beginning of real reform that respects the rights of fishermen to be treated fairly and justly.”
“Nowhere was the abuse of the office more evident than here in Gloucester,” said Mayor Carolyn Kirk.
“While this not a cause for celebration,” said Congressman Barney Frank, "it is clearly an improvement.”
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, who advised Lubchenco at her Senate confirmation hearing that NOAA’s relationship with the fishing industry had become dangerously dysfunctional, called the day’s developments a vindication for the fleet.
“Today’s announcement by NOAA that it will pursue a replacement to lead the agency’s law enforcement branch is a vindication to the thousands of Northeast fishermen who bore the brunt of the egregious mismanagement recently discovered within all levels of NOAA’s law enforcement community,” Snowe said. “Indeed, the Inspector General’s report shed light on deep-rooted systemic problems within the agency’s enforcement practice, and although it is regrettable that NOAA is only now taking action to remove the current director from his post, it is certainly a step in the right direction.”
For full coverage of this story, look to tomorrow's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.
Richard Gaines can be reached at (978) 283-7000, x3464, firstname.lastname@example.org