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May 9, 2010

Challenging NOAA stand on past cases

Members of the East Coast congressional fishing caucus are prepared to challenge the announced intention of top fisheries regulators to tackle systemic failings in law enforcement — including excessive penalties and possible vindictive motives — without reviewing past miscarriages of justice by federal enforcement agents against fishermen and related businesses.

Sens. John Kerry and Scott Brown and Congressman John Tierney said they believe it essential that acts of improperly used authority by the agents of now-former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration police chief Dale J. Jones and NOAA's office of general counsel be fully explored in the process of reforming the scandalized agency.

Kerry and Tierney said they would raise their concern during an emergency meeting set for Wednesday with Commerce Secretary Gary Locke that he granted to a 23-member caucus to discuss a suite of suggested actions by the secretary to relieve concerns over the viability of the New England groundfishing industry.

"Sometimes, you have to look back in order to move forward," said Kerry.

"I will work with other members of the delegation to fully investigate the reported acts of impropriety," said Brown.

Won't stand for 'silence'

Tierney added that "we will not tolerate NOAA's silence on this matter."

Republican Congressman Walter B. Jones of North Carolina, most members of the caucus as well as lawyers and lawmakers from New England ports have asserted similar opinions.

"Congressman Jones feels that it is unacceptable for NOAA not to look back at the problems or what caused them," his press secretary, Catherine Fodor, said Friday.

In addition, Congressman Barney Frank, who could not be reached for this story, has been outspoken in urging that NOAA look back at law enforcement acts that warrant review.

The decision to reform NOAA law enforcement without first reviewing past excessive penalties and actions against the industry was found in a memo to NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco by Eric Schwaab, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and NOAA Chief Counsel Lois Schiffer.

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