Commerce Secretary Gary Locke orders fishery enforcement penalties returned to 11 fishermen and businesses; accepts all of the Special Master's recommendations in his authority

Announces additional reforms to NOAA enforcement program

May 17, 2011

Shrimp vessel fishes off Florida.

High Resolution (Credit: NOAA)

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced today that $649,527 in fisheries enforcement penalties will be returned to 11 individuals or businesses after an independent review of their cases concluded the NOAA enforcement program had in some instances “overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness.” In his decision memo issued today, Secretary Locke acted on 30 cases reviewed by the Special Master, Judge Charles Swartwood III, accepting all of his recommendations that the law allows and taking additional actions in several cases. Secretary Locke appointed Judge Swartwood to conduct the independent review of cases identified by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General as problematic. The individuals and businesses will receive their remittances within 30 days of receipt of payment information.

“As a former prosecutor, I expect our entire law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public’s trust. Enforcement has to be fair, uniform and consistent. I accepted all of the Special Master's recommendations in every instance where I have authority to do so under Magnuson-Stevens Act, and in some cases I went beyond the Special Master’s recommendation,” said Secretary Locke. “In addition, we are implementing additional reforms to make regulations and enforcement more fair and effective. We inherited this decades-old problem, but it’s ending on my watch.”

Among the businesses and fishermen who will receive returned penalties are the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction ($16,515) and former New Bedford sea scallop fisherman Lawrence Yacubian ($400,000), whose cases date back to the early 2000s. During the period of time associated with the 30 reviewed cases, NOAA investigated over 40,000 incidents and issued penalties or sanctions in about 6,000 cases. Judge Swartwood is currently reviewing approximately 80 additional applications that were received during a recent application period. The applications that meet the standards set forth in Secretary Locke’s March 2011 Decision Memorandum will receive further review.

“Today we acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, apologize to the fishermen and businesses hurt by these mistakes, and rededicate ourselves to work with the fishing industry to sustain and grow fishing jobs,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, who traveled to Gloucester to meet with affected fishermen and with NOAA enforcement staff in the region. “Since coming into office two years ago, I made reform of our fisheries enforcement program a top priority. I believe today marks a major turning point in NOAA’s relationship with America’s fishermen, and in particular fishermen in New England.”

In June 2009, after hearing concerns from fishermen, businesses and elected officials, Dr. Lubchenco asked the Department of Commerce Inspector General to conduct a national review of NOAA’s enforcement program. Based on this review and other findings, Secretary Locke and Dr. Lubchenco instituted sweeping changes in its enforcement program, including:

For a complete list of NOAA enforcement reforms instituted over the past two years, click here.

In response to Judge Swartwood’s report, Secretary Locke and Dr. Lubchenco announce that in addition to returning penalties, NOAA would take the following actions: 

“By reducing penalties, I want to make it clear that fisheries enforcement serves fisheries, fishermen, and fishing communities,” said Secretary Locke. “The primary goal of the enforcement program is to increase compliance with the regulations necessary to ensure our fisheries are sustainable. NOAA should strongly enforce marine resource laws, and act prudently to serve those whose livelihoods depend on the marine resources these laws protect. NOAA has worked to refocus its fisheries management, enforcement and compliance programs consistent with these goals. Today’s decision is one more step in that process.”

Judge Swartwood's 236-page report may be found at

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