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October 26, 2012

Fish report release unlikely before elections

The Obama administration, through its Commerce Department and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has declined to respond to inquiries as to whether it would release before the Nov. 6 election a special investigator’s set of case studies into allegations of abuse and excesses against American fishermen by federal law enforcers still insulated and protected by top Commerce and NOAA officials.

Numerous telephone and email questions over the past month to the acting commerce secretary, Rebecca Blank, General Counsel Cameron Kerry, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and her chief counsel, Lois Schiffer, have been ignored.

The report by special judicial master Charles B. Swartwood III was completed and submitted in March.

In May 2011, the first report from the same special judicial investigator, Charles B. Swartwood III – hired by then-Commerce Secertary Gary Locke to look into alleged abuse of law enforcement authority victimizing fishermen — was released with redactions within a month of its submission.

The first Swartwood report validated the majority of detailed allegations in the highest profile case — including an illegal entry by NOAA agents and the submission to a judge of false information to get a search warrant to the now defunct Gloucester Seafood Display Auction. It also concluded another major case against a New Bedford scalloper, now out of business, was motivated by “money.”

The Commerce Department inspector general, Todd Zinser, had previously uncovered schemes to inflate an asset forfeiture fund with excessive fines used to outfit the Office of Law Enforcement with more vehicles than there were agents, and to finance travel to exotic locales for conventions unrelated to cases, making the expenditures a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

Locke, now the ambassador to China, issued a public apology and reparations of more than $650,000 to 11 of the victims of the most egregious excesses, but Lubchenco and Schiffer decided against firing or punishing any of the perpetrators, including the longtime director of law enforcement, Dale Jones. A former small city Maryland police chief, Jones was made a fisheries analyst and continues to draw nearly all of his $155,000 salary.

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