GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

February 3, 2010

Editorial: NOAA policing chief's reaction to report a shameful dismissal

The top federal official for fisheries law enforcement apparently believes that the best way to respond to a scathing report on his performance is to ignore the substance of it.

Todd Zinser, the U.S. Department of Commerce's Inspector General, issued a 26-page report last month that found "systemic, nationwide issues adversely affecting NOAA's ability to effectively carry out its mission."

Those problems have included inconsistent, heavy-handed enforcement by what can only be called rogue agents, essentially accountable to no one.

And the allegations even in this somewhat preliminary IG's report — the office is rightfully still looking into specific instances of "abusive treatment" — already amount to confirmation of complaints that fishermen have been making and appeals the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction has argued for years.

The response from Dale Jones, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Office of Law Enforcement?

In a message to his staff leaked to the Times, he said he "concur(red) with the need for us to improve our communications and relationships with the fishing industry."

Yikes.

Look, the only communication problem at this point is that Jane Lubchenco, NOAA's chief administrator, has not clearly communicated to Jones the message that he has to clean out his office and go.

Lubchenco, of course, has been equally detached. Her only practical response to the IG's findings so far has been to call for a "national summit" on enforcement policies and practices — and, for whatever reason, to include environmental and academic groups with commercial and recreational fishermen.

Pathetically, neither has directly addressed the IG's report. And its findings should not prompt a summit — they must prompt action. And that action must include, at the very least, the immediate suspension of Jones and other superiors, especially in the Gloucester-based Northeast regional offices, where the fines have been the most heavy-handed and the enforcement the most inconsistent.

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