McIntyre Introduces Legislation To Help Fishermen
U.S. Congressman Mike McIntyre has helped introduce legislation to compensate and protect the fishing industry from excessive fines, reform the Asset Forfeiture Fund, and increase the role of the states in providing scientific research.
Congressman McIntyre stated, "We must do all we can to help our fishermen, and this bill will do just that. Converting the Asset Forfeiture Fund from an incentive to mistreat fishermen into a resource for improving the quality of fishing by funding regional fisheries research will help Southeastern North Carolina fish stocks and fishermen. I will be working to enact this bill."
The first part of the bill would use funds from the Asset Forfeiture Fund (AFF), which typically funds NOAA's enforcement operation but has been subject to mismanagement and abuse for years. The provision would 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.
The 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 and other purposes as outlined in the bill.
Currently, although all fish stock allocation limits are determined by using "best available science," many NOAA"s stock assessments are outdated. This funding provided by the legislation will allow the Agency to conduct several pressing studies. Additionally, the 20% distribution to states will provide vital seed funding for smaller local and regional research projects. States will be able to partner with universities to perform cooperative research and other activities.
The bill also permanently removes the agency's incentive to institute higher fines by mandating that all future AFF funds collected on October 1st, 2011 and beyond be used solely for state research, and it also provides a small stream of funding for local research projects.
Finally, the bill orders NOAA to reassign its Administrative Law Judges (ALJ) in the various Council Regions after a five-year period. They may accomplish this by either moving an ALJ into another region or hiring an ALJ from another Agency. This provision will ensure that ALJs will be independent arbiters, and prevent long-term working histories with prosecutors.