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Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, today, Federal regulations developed to limit fishing have forced some fishermen out of business and pushed many more to the brink. Too many Massachusetts fishermen are doing all they can every day to keep a roof over their head and to feed their families. They are extremely frustrated that the Department of Commerce has made a series of decisions that seem to make it more difficult for them to take care of their families.
In May 2009, I sent a letter to Administrator Lubchenco requesting that NOAA investigate allegations of excessive penalties and retaliatory actions. These charges have been confirmed both by the Inspector General and by Special Master Swartwood appointed by Secretary Locke. This has led to NOAA personnel being reassigned and some fines being rescinded by Secretary Locke. There continues to be a justified distrust of the Federal Government by the fishermen, this relationship must be repaired and trust must be restored.
I have been working in the Senate to make sure that our fishermen will be treated fairly by federal regulators.
That is why today I am introducing the Fisheries Fee Fairness Act of 2011. This legislation will give the Secretary of Commerce the option to take funds from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, AFF, and use them to reimburse the legal fees and costs incurred by fishermen and businesses whose fines were remitted by the Secretary of Commerce at the recommendation of Special Master Swartwood. Under my legislation, the Secretary of Commerce would have 90 days to determine whether to provide a reimbursement and the amount of the reimbursement and reimbursements would be capped at $200,000 per person or business. The Special Master is currently reviewing a second round of cases brought forth by fishermen who believed they were inappropriately penalized by NOAA enforcement agents. Under my legislation, the fishermen in this group will also qualify to have their legal fees and costs reimbursed if the Secretary of Commerce remits their fines.
We have made progress in rebuilding the relationship between our fishermen and the Federal Government, but we still have a distance to travel. This legislation ensures our fishermen are made whole and can keep what they have earned, and those are principles I intend to keep fighting for. I ask all of my colleagues to support this important legislation.
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