Senator John Kerry responded today to an announcement by Commerce Secretary Locke and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Administrator Lubchenco about NOAA's enforcement program.
On March 3, Kerry met with Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco and spoke with White House Chief of Staff and former Commerce Secretary William Daley, and on March 11 again met with Administrator Lubchenco and spoke with Secretary Locke to discuss the dire needs of Massachusetts fishermen.
Senator Kerry also followed up with a letter recommending a number of emergency steps to help the Massachusetts fishing industry. Specifically, Kerry asked for the following: Secretary Locke to issue a Disaster Declaration to provide emergency economic assistance to the fishing industry; catch limits to be increased for the current fishing season; additional reports of abuse and unfair treatment from the fishing community to be examined by the Special Master; penalties associated with cases being reviewed by the Special Master be stayed until the review is complete; a five year audit of the Asset Forfeiture Fund; and for an increase in the frequency of stock assessments, a quicker incorporation of findings of cooperative research, and reduction in the amount of scientific uncertainty in our management decisions.
"I'm very grateful for today's announcement, and for the candid, good faith conversations and negotiations we've shared. It's a solid and welcome first step to repair the relationship between the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and our fishing communities that has been strained in recent years," said Sen. Kerry. "Our fishermen, fishing communities and the Massachusetts congressional delegation have been ringing this alarm bell and this is very welcome news that the government is responding. This is a first step but an important one and the hard work continues. Our fishermen have a deep hole to dig out of just to survive, and they desperately need the government at all levels to help them dig. Today the Commerce Department picked up the shovel. Many more actions are needed to address the economic impacts on our fishermen and I will continue my very close collaboration with the Administration to make sure we're all pushing and pulling in the same direction."
Secretary Locke and Administrator Lubchenco announced the following changes:
* The Department of Commerce will open a 51 day appeal window to allow fishermen and businesses who wish to come forward to submit a complaint to the Special Master set up after the Inspector General investigation;
* The Special Master will be allowed to grant a stay of penalties, at his discretion. This will allow our fishermen to keep their hard earned money while the Special Master determines whether they were treated fairly;
* Secretary Locke has directed the Economic Development Administration (EDA) to visit communities in New England to meet with local community and business leaders to assess current and emerging economic issues related to federal fishing regulations. EDA will then work in partnership with other federal agencies to identify new and existing resources to help support local communities and economic development in the region;
* NOAA will make changes to ensure our fishermen will never again have to deal with intimidation from federal regulators. NOAA will conduct an audit of the Asset Forfeiture Fund that will include a targeted review of transactions going back to 2004 to determine if there was any fraud or illegal activity. NOAA has also changed the policies for the Asset Forfeiture Fund that will eliminate a significant portion of the Fund's historical uses, including the purchase of vehicles and vessels and the payment of travel expenses not related to investigations; AND
* NOAA will institute a new penalty policy that will ensure that New England fishermen are not subject to unfair fines that are higher than other regions.
"I encourage anyone who believes they were fined unfairly for fisheries violations to take advantage of the appeal window and submit a complaint," said Kerry. "These changes overall will help ensure that money isn't being taken out of the pockets of our hard working fisherman."