Yesterday, the Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing on the National Marine Fisheries Ombudsman Act of 2010 (H.R. 5180). Congresswoman Shea-Porter, a member of that Subcommittee, introduced H.R. 5180 on April 29, 2010, which will create an Office of the Ombudsman within the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).
"NMFS has had a difficult time reaching out to the fishermen," said Congresswoman Shea-Porter at the hearing. "At this point, there is so little trust of the Service that any efforts to improve the relationship will be met with significant distrust. However, there is need for more interaction, and an Ombudsman would be able to investigate complaints brought by fishermen. That is why this bill is needed and I am pleased the Committee is moving forward."
In a January 2010 report, the Department of Commerce Inspector General recommended reestablishing the position of Ombudsman. Shea-Porter's bill would do so, creating an independent office that will act as a neutral third party to identify points of conflict and contention between NMFS and fishermen, undertake impartial fact-finding and investigations and mitigate those points of conflict. The Ombudsman will also serve as a point of contact and receive complaints from industries regulated by NMFS and will conduct community outreach and disseminate information about new regulations and requirements. The Ombudsman will report to Congress annually on their recommendations to improve the services and responsiveness of NMFS, summarize the most pervasive and serious points of conflict, and make recommendations to resolve those points of conflict.