Compliance, Plus Fair and Effective Enforcement, Are Vital to Managing Our Nation's Fisheries
Marine mammal shootings and smuggling operations. International conspiracies and local fraud. Paper trails and money trails. Not just the stuff of political thrillers, these are the kinds of issues NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement confronts every day.
NOAA has an Office of Law Enforcement? What are you, the weather cops?
We’ve heard it all before, and we take it in stride. Many NOAA enforcement officers and agents chose conservation law enforcement over traditional law enforcement because they are passionate about this kind of work. They know that fair and effective enforcement is vital to managing our nation’s fisheries and integral to protecting marine resources and their habitats. The vast majority of fishermen follow the rules and count on us for help.
We also protect consumers who buy seafood products.
In the past, when people asked me what our office does, I would explain that we protect legitimate, law-abiding fishermen by ensuring compliance with the laws and regulations. And, we enforce more than 35 federal statutes, including laws that protect fisheries, marine mammals, endangered species, and habitat. I would note that our jurisdiction spans more than 3 million square miles of open ocean, more than 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline, 13 national marine sanctuaries, and four marine national monuments—not to mention the high seas and international trade relating to U.S. treaties and international law. I might even mention that we’ve opened 902 cases in 2012 so far.
Impressive numbers, I thought, but some people remained puzzled.
So, I would tell them the story of how our agents uncovered a large-scale seafood smuggling scheme and how those investigations led to the criminal prosecution of 12 individuals and companies for illegally importing and selling Vietnamese catfish purposely mislabeled as grouper and other more valuable species. Not only were consumers not getting what they paid for—and this sometimes included products containing antibiotics and chemicals banned in U.S. food—but this unfair foreign competition harms domestic fishermen who follow the rules. We’re here to make sure that those who obey the rules reap the benefits of fair competition and an even playing field in the market.
But fish and fishing isn’t our only focus. For example, our agents help protect habitat within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. And we spend a good deal of time protecting marine mammals by investigating whale ship strikes and crimes such as dolphin and sea lion shootings.
This month you’ll see even more examples of our work, from tackling seafood fraud nationally to helping crack down on illegal fishing
internationally. You’ll learn how forensics helps us solve cases and how one enforcement officer with a coverage area larger than Connecticut and Rhode Island leveraged partnerships and the public to protect a national marine sanctuary.
These are just a sample of our challenging and important work. Want to know more? Stay tuned for more throughout the month.
Director, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (2011-2014)