Fisheries Law Enforcement Updates

Review of Fisheries Enforcement Complaints Underway

February 23, 2012

The Special Master has given three interim reports of his progress reviewing NOAA fisheries enforcement complaints.

View interim Special Master report (2/22/12) [pdf]

View interim Special Master report (12/6/11) [pdf]

View interim Special Master report (10/14/11) [pdf]

Buckson named NOAA Fisheries law enforcement director

Brings three decades of marine law enforcement to new role

June 25, 2011

NOAA today announced the selection of Bruce Buckson, a nationally recognized leader in natural resource conservation law enforcement, as director of the NOAA Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). Buckson will join NOAA on September 4 from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), where he served for 29 years. A Lieutenant Colonel, he has been a deputy director of its Division of Law Enforcement since 2007. The FWC includes one of the largest fish and wildlife law enforcement agencies in the world in a state with the nation’s second longest coastline.

“Bruce brings to NOAA extensive natural resource conservation leadership experience, firsthand knowledge of marine law enforcement operations and a demonstrated ability to work across diverse stakeholder groups to ensure clear, effective and enforceable policies,” said Eric Schwaab, assistant NOAA administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “In his new role, Bruce will advance our mission to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that conserve and protect our nation's marine resources. For example, he will expand our dockside presence and improve communications with fishermen with the hiring of 23 new enforcement officers and lead the search for a new Special Agent in Charge for the Northeast Region.”

Buckson began his law enforcement career patrolling the waters of the upper Florida Keys and advanced to increasing levels of responsibility within the FWC. Among his career highlights, he directed marine law enforcement operations, led a statewide resource protection unit, coordinated a mutual aid agreement to enhance state and federal protection of endangered manatees, and served as the FWC’s law enforcement liaison to regional Fisheries commissions and councils and to federal agencies.

Read full release »

Statement from Maureen Wylie, NOAA Chief Financial Officer

June 16, 2011

“We are pleased to report that the accounting firm Clifton Gunderson, LLP, conducted an independent audit of NOAA’s Asset Forfeiture Fund and the fund’s audited financial statements received an unqualified (clean) opinion, or the best type of audit opinion one can receive.

“The unqualified opinion means that NOAA’s accounting for the fund’s balance and the transactions for the year ending March 31, 2011 are presented fairly in accordance with general accounting principles. The audit confirmed that the fund’s balance is $7.5 million as of then.

“Ensuring that the fund is properly accounted and used is essential to carrying out our duties as responsible managers of federal dollars and as stewards of coastal and marine resources. Our ability to carry out these duties depends in large part upon the maintenance of proper internal controls.

“While the audit opinion is good news, NOAA remains committed to continuing to improve the oversight and the accountability of the fund. The auditors have identified areas that can and should be improved through management’s attention. This is not uncommon during an audit and we are prepared to take the necessary steps to ensure the identified areas are resolved before the next audit of the fund financial statements. NOAA is committed to developing a corrective action plan designed to address the recommendations offered by Clifton Gunderson, LLP by July 31.”


This audit was undertaken at the direction of Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, as part of a comprehensive action plan to ensure that monies collected from fisheries enforcement penalties are properly accounted for and used. The audit is one of a number of significant steps that NOAA has taken to improve transparency and accountability in its enforcement program.

Read full release »

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke orders fishery enforcement penalties returned to 11 fishermen and businesses; accepts all of the Special Master's recommendations in his authority

Announces additional reforms to NOAA enforcement program

May 17, 2011

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke announced today that $649,527 in fisheries enforcement penalties will be returned to 11 individuals or businesses after an independent review of their cases concluded the NOAA enforcement program had in some instances “overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness.” In his decision memo issued today, Secretary Locke acted on 30 cases reviewed by the Special Master, Judge Charles Swartwood III, accepting all of his recommendations that the law allows and taking additional actions in several cases. Secretary Locke appointed Judge Swartwood to conduct the independent review of cases identified by the Department of Commerce’s Inspector General as problematic. The individuals and businesses will receive their remittances within 30 days of receipt of payment information.

“As a former prosecutor, I expect our entire law enforcement program to uphold high standards and maintain the public’s trust. Enforcement has to be fair, uniform and consistent. I accepted all of the Special Master's recommendations in every instance where I have authority to do so under Magnuson-Stevens Act, and in some cases I went beyond the Special Master’s recommendation,” said Secretary Locke. “In addition, we are implementing additional reforms to make regulations and enforcement more fair and effective. We inherited this decades-old problem, but it’s ending on my watch.”

Among the businesses and fishermen who will receive returned penalties are the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction ($16,515) and former New Bedford sea scallop fisherman Lawrence Yacubian ($400,000), whose cases date back to the early 2000s. During the period of time associated with the 30 reviewed cases, NOAA investigated over 40,000 incidents and issued penalties or sanctions in about 6,000 cases. Judge Swartwood is currently reviewing approximately 80 additional applications that were received during a recent application period. The applications that meet the standards set forth in Secretary Locke’s March 2011 Decision Memorandum will receive further review.

“Today we acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, apologize to the fishermen and businesses hurt by these mistakes, and rededicate ourselves to work with the fishing industry to sustain and grow fishing jobs,” said Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator, who traveled to Gloucester to meet with affected fishermen and with NOAA enforcement staff in the region. “Since coming into office two years ago, I made reform of our fisheries enforcement program a top priority. I believe today marks a major turning point in NOAA’s relationship with America’s fishermen, and in particular fishermen in New England.”

Read full release »

Commerce Secretary Announces Additional Reforms to Overhaul NOAA’s Law Enforcement System

March 16, 2011

U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced that he would allow fishermen and businesses until May 6, 2011, to submit complaints about potentially excessive enforcement penalties to the Special Master for review, as well as request stays of their penalties as part of the complaint process. This is part of a series of ongoing improvements to NOAA’s Law Enforcement System. The Secretary and NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco also announced policy changes aimed at strengthening, simplifying and improving both the enforcement and the regulatory process for fishermen and businesses. 

The additional enforcement reforms taken by Secretary Locke and NOAA include:

Review of Fisheries Enforcement Complaints Underway


February 17, 2011

The Special Master has given three interim reports of his progress to date reviewing NOAA fisheries enforcement complaints identified by the Commerce Inspector General and sent by the Secretary of Commerce for his review.

View interim Special Master report (2/24/11) [pdf]

View interim Special Master report (1/11/11) [pdf]

View interim Special Master report (11/15/10) [pdf]

NOAA Response to Inspector General's Report on NOAA's Enforcement Program

November 29, 2010

Now available: Under Secretary's response to Inspector General's September 23, 2010 report regarding NOAA's enforcement program

The September report provided the results of the Inspector General's review of certain complaints raised by fishers and others to that office during his review of the enforcement program.  The response describes the review being conducted by a Special Master of certain complaints, personnel changes, establishment of a pilot compliance assistance program in the Northeast, and planned revisions to NOAA's enforcement operations manual.

View Response to September 23rd Report [pdf]

NOAA Takes Steps to Reform Enforcement Practices

October 18, 2010

As part of an ongoing effort to reform its enforcement practices, NOAA’s Office of General Counsel, through its Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation, is requesting public comment on a new draft penalty policy.

The draft policy is available electronically at and comments must be received by December 20. Please submit written comments to:

Fax 301-427-2210
Mail Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation
8484 Georgia Ave., Suite 400
Silver Spring, Md. 20910
Attn. Frank Sprtel


To receive a printed copy of the draft policy, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the above U.S. mail address.

Press release: NOAA Takes Steps to Reform Enforcement Practices

NOAA Proposed Policy on Prohibited and Authorized Uses of the Asset Forfeiture Fund

September 29, 2010

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorizes the Secretary of Commerce through NOAA to pay certain enforcement related costs from sums received as fines, penalties, and forfeitures of property for violations of any marine resource law enforced by the Secretary. Fines, penalties, and forfeitures of property received by NOAA are deposited in an enforcement asset forfeiture fund. The Secretary is proposing a new policy to clearly articulate prohibited and authorized uses of these funds to ensure no conflict of interest- either real or perceived - associated with its use while continuing to promote a sound enforcement program dedicated to conserving and protecting our nation's marine resources. The Secretary requests comments from the public on listed prohibited and authorized uses of the funding and, in particular, expenditures for activities that would promote compliance with regulations promulgated by NOAA.

View the proposed policy and submit comments

Announcing Fisheries Law Enforcement Complaint e-Hotline

September 27, 2010

NOAA is committed to improving its communications with its constituents and stakeholders, even if it means hearing their complaints.  Issues surrounding law enforcement are sensitive, and fishermen may be afraid to come forward to report problems.  NOAA already has a web site for the public to provide information involving current investigations or to report possible violations of law (, and an Enforcement Hotline that is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (1-800-853-1964). 

In order to provide further protection to anyone who has information regarding enforcement improprieties by NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement or enforcement attorneys, NOAA will establish another hotline – this one specifically to report unfair or overzealous enforcement actions or other breaches of conduct by NOAA enforcement agents or attorneys.  This Enforcement Complaint e-Hotline will be a link on the NOAA homepage that will allow stakeholders to report any issues to NOAA management through a specific email address ( that will go directly to NOAA Headquarters.  Any complaints received will be reviewed at Headquarters and, as necessary, investigated further.  This should provide fishermen and other members of the regulated community a mechanism for raising issues about NOAA law enforcement without fear of reprisal.  NOAA will evaluate the effectiveness of the Enforcement Complaint Hotline after one year to ensure that it is providing an appropriate outlet for enforcement complaints.  If it is not working, NOAA will take additional actions to ensure that if the regulated community has issues with NOAA enforcement, they will be heard.