Congressman Barney Frank, Senator John Kerry, Senator Scott Brown, Congressman William Delahunt, Congressman John Tierney and Governor Deval Patrick hailed the announcement by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke that he would introduce widespread reforms to increase accountability at the Office of Law Enforcement Division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The announcement coincides with a high-level meeting with Secretary Locke and Members of the Congressional delegation. The Massachusetts representatives have long been critical of NOAA for placing unreasonably low catch limits on the fishing industry, and for enforcement procedures that are excessively heavy-handed.
"This is a good step by Secretary Locke to help ease the tensions between our fishermen and federal regulators. When I met with Secretary Locke about this issue on Thursday I reiterated the urgent need to work with the New England delegation to ease the regulations that are restricting fishing on choke stocks, and I want to emphasize again how important it is for him to keep working with us towards a lasting solution for our struggling fishermen. They've taken a pounding in this economy and it's vital that we get them help right away," said Senator John Kerry.
"I am glad that Secretary Locke has taken a positive first step towards improving enforcement and I am particularly pleased that the Secretary himself has appropriately taken a lead role in supervising the reform of the Office of Law Enforcement," said Frank. "Additionally, he has taken an equally important second step of committing to work with us to increase the amount of fish that can be caught, particular cod and flounder. After some vigorous discussion Secretary Locke agreed to receive our argument on why it is economically justifiable and permissible under the statutes to increase choke stocks. I believe that the combined efforts of myself, Senator Kerry, Senator Brown, Congressman Tierney, Senator Whitehouse, Mayor Lang, and fishing industry leaders -- especially from New Bedford -- convinced Secretary Locke of the urgency of prompt actions, and I look forward to working with him."
"The reforms announced by Secretary Locke are a good step toward restoring trust and improving the relationship between the federal government and the fishing communities. However, now we need to turn our focus toward removing the burdensome restrictions and regulations that are hurting the fishing industry. During these uncertain economic times, it is critical that we do everything we can to help our fishermen, who have played an important role in the New England economy for so many years," said Senator Scott Brown.
"With all the uncertainty fishermen face today, they deserve far better than the hostile environment fostered by the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement that was outlined in the Inspector General's report. I applaud Sec. Locke's decision to implement these much-needed accountability measures that will benefit the agency as well as our fishermen," said Congressman Delahunt.
"I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Secretary Locke yesterday, and I am pleased to know he is committed to working with the New England delegation to revisit regulations on choke stocks and ensure the common sense application of catch share limits," said Congressman Tierney. "Additionally, while it is positive that the Secretary has appointed someone to review the cases highlighted by the IG report, I voiced my frustration that more immediate action is not being taken. Finally, I will continue to work with the Secretary on legislation I introduced to overhaul the Asset Forfeiture Fund. Again, the Secretary has taken steps in the right direction, however, I do not believe his proposed reforms go far enough to fix an unfair system that hurts fisherman and inappropriately benefits NOAA officers."
"I am pleased to see the Department of Commerce taking action to end the abuses in enforcement that subjected our fishermen to unfair treatment," said Governor Deval Patrick. "We look forward to NOAA reopening individual cases and giving those who suffered these abuses a chance to seek justice. We must also see action now to meet the urgent economic needs in our fishing communities, and I look forward to seeing Secretary Locke raise catch limits that are squeezing the Massachusetts ground fishing industry.
Locke's statement accepts the conclusions of the Inspector General report, which found numerous problems with NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement. The Secretary conceded that dramatic changes in NOAA procedures are needed.
"The problems identified by the Inspector General are unacceptable, were allowed to persist for too long and will end on my watch," said Locke. "We are taking the steps needed to make fisheries enforcement accountable and transparent."
Additionally, Secretary Locke agreed to continue working with the delegation and state officials, and to receive legal arguments that increasing the catch allocation of cod, flounder, and other choke fish species is economically justified and permissible under the statutes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act.