Today, the Asset Forfeiture Fund Reform and Distribution Act was introduced in the US House of Representatives. Rep. Bill Keating is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan legislation, which was introduced by fellow Massachusetts Member, Rep. Barney Frank.
Under the bill:
* funds from the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF) will be used 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
* remaining funds and all fines collected by September 30th, 2011 in the AFF will then be distributed to NOAA and the states per an 80/20 distribution, with 80% going to NOAA for high priority stock assessments and 20% percent to the states for research
* the agency's incentive to institute higher fines will be removed by mandating that all future AFF funds collected on October 1st, 2011 and beyond be used solely for state or local research projects.
"Fishing is a critical local industry for Massachusetts, and we need to implement fair and effective policies to protect this industry from excessive fines," said Rep. Keating. "I remain committed to ensuring the proper use of AFF funds and the promotion of new scientific research so that our fishermen have the most accurate stock assessments."
"Within the 20% distribution that this bill affords the states is a provision that allows states to partner with universities to perform cooperative research," continued Rep. Keating. "With so many state-of-the-art facilities right here in our district, this bill will provide a wonderful opportunity for the whole community to support this historic industry. Fishing has long been synonymous with New England, and the success of our fishermen is intrinsically linked to the economic vitality of our local communities. It's time we start making sure that they get a fair shake."
In March, Rep. Keating introduced the Strengthen Fisheries Management in New England Act, which requires that penalties collected from New England fishermen by NOAA be used to improve the management of New England fisheries. The bill specifically directs the US Secretary of Commerce to provide the New England Fishery Management Council (Council) with the AFF funds that have been collected from New England fishermen for direct use toward improving the research and management of New England's fisheries.