The news from Washington that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke would open the door to fishermen to appeal their clearly excessive penalties back through cases dating to 2004.
And it was good to hear Locke's other promises noted during a Wednesday teleconference alongside National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration chief Jane Lubchenco — like giving investigative "special master" and retired Judge Charles B. Swartwood III time to finish his charge of taking a close look inside the most egregious excessive enforcement cases flagged by Inspector General Todd Zinser, and commissioning a regulatory overhaul to simplify the process.
But it's important to keep in mind a few issues hovering on the fringe of Wednesday's announcement, which came — not so coincidentally, we suspect, soon after a meeting with U.S. Sen. John Kerry, whose committee holds sway over Locke's pending appointment as ambassador to China as nominated by President Obama.
Yes, Locke is now calling for a stepped-up, "independent" look into NOAA enforcement's Asset Forfeiture Fund. That's the treasure trove built on the obscene fines paid by fishermen and tapped with virtually no oversight for both enforcement agents' overseas junkets and budgeted expenses out of Schiffer's prosecutors' office.
Yes, Swartwood — who also chairs the Massachusetts Ethics Commission, and therefore knows a thing or two about proper procedure — should now be able to carry out the rest of his probe without the time and other limitations Locke had clamped onto his charge in late January.
And yes, above all, fishermen and other businesses clearly wronged by NOAA's vindictive law enforcement tactics as outlined by Zinser's IG report, will now have avenues of appeal to revisit their cases.
But Locke's Wednesday announcement really only opens doors that should never have been closed in the first place.
Indeed, Schiffer's initial call — shamefully backed, of course, by Lubchenco and her NOAA fisheries yes-man, Eric Schwaab — to move forward without righting NOAA's prosecutorial wrongs of the past remains such an affront to basic American justice that it should call into her question her ability to fairly practice law at all.
For all the doors that Locke may have opened Wednesday, perhaps the most telling questions still swirling around this mess are ones that weren't touched.
Those include when — not if — the Commerce Department will turn this entire case over to an independent, outside federal probe and prosecution that should be commissioned by Congress, as U.S. Sen. Scott Brown has proposed.
They also include when — not if — the Commerce Department will cut all ties to former NOAA enforcement chief Dale Jones and his underling henchmen, who should be held criminally accountable for their policing actions, not merely shifted to other six-figure jobs at taxpayers' expense.
Locke's calls on Wednesday are welcome. And they may well help fishermen get the taste of justice they have been so wrongly denied in the past.
But Locke's actions — while he's likely on his own way out the Commerce Department door — still represent just one step in reversing injustice carried out by an agency whose perpetrators are still on the federal payroll.
And the nation's Commerce chief still hasn't reined in Lubchenco's job- and small business-killing regulatory policies that continue to add to America's ludicrous seafood trade deficit.
Congressional lawmakers, from Kerry and Brown to Congressmen John Tierney and Barney Frank, need first to hold the Commerce Department and all of the wings of NOAA to Locke's Wednesday promises.
But they should also realize that these very basic steps fall short of rebuilding the faith of fishermen and fishing communities in this rogue federal agency under its current leadership.
The next steps can't come soon enough.