Frequently asked questions are grouped under the following headings:
- About NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement
- Enforcement Regulations
- Working with Partners
- General Inquiries from Citizens
About NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement
What does NOAA’S Office of Law Enforcement do?
We protect marine fisheries, wildlife, and habitat by enforcing domestic laws, international treaties, and obligations to ensure these global resources are available for future generations to use and enjoy. We are the only federal law enforcement agency fully dedicated to the enforcement of federal fishery regulations. Our work supports NOAA Fisheries’ core mission mandates—maximizing productivity of sustainable fisheries and fishing communities and protection, recovery, and conservation of protected species.
How does NOAA enforce laws?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement accomplishes its mission through:
- Criminal and civil investigations
- Patrols, inspections, and monitoring
- Partnerships with state, tribal, federal, and nongovernmental organizations
- Cooperative fisheries enforcement to implement international treaties and obligations
- Outreach and compliance assistance
- Use of innovative technological tools
Why do NOAA special agents and enforcement officers carry firearms?
Special agents and enforcement officers are federal law enforcement officers and have the authority to bear firearms under Title 16 U.S.C. 3375(b). It is a requirement for our agents and officers to carry issued firearms at all times while on duty.
How is NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement related to the National Weather Service?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement falls under the NOAA Fisheries line office and is focused on the enforcement of marine resource laws. NOAA’s National Weather Service is a different line office and is responsible for providing weather, water, and climate data as well as forecasts and warnings.
Enforcement of Regulations
How do I report a violation?
NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Hotline (1-800-853-1964) provides live operator coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States to report a federal fisheries violation. During regular business hours, you also can call the closest Office of Law Enforcement field office to report alleged possible violation or one of the six division headquarters offices.
Who can I contact with questions if my vessel was boarded by the U.S. Coast Guard?
An individual wishing to discuss the results of a boarding should refer to the information on the Coast Guard's boarding form to contact the Coast Guard unit that conducted the boarding. Mariners may also request a response online at http://uscg.mil/global/mail/.
What are the sanctions and penalties for violating federal marine fishery regulations?
NOAA’s Office of General Counsel is responsible for prosecuting civil cases. For more information, please review the Policy for the Assessment of Civil Administrative Penalties and Permit Sanctions.
What is the summary settlement process?
A summary settlement provides the opportunity to not contest an alleged violation and instead pay a reduced penalty within a specified time period following receipt of the Summary Settlement Notice. If an individual chooses not to accept the summary settlement offer, the case is forwarded to NOAA's Office of General Counsel for prosecution.
Individuals have 30 days from receipt of the Notice of Violation and Assessment (NOVA) to request a hearing. For hearings on a NOVA, Notice of Permit Sanction (NOPS), or Notice of Intent to Deny Permit (NIDP), requests must be dated and in writing. All hearing requests need to be served either in person or mailed to the Agency counsel specified in the notice. As part of the request, respondents must either attach a copy of the NOVA, NOPS, or NIDP, or refer to the relevant NOAA case number.
Are all federal marine fishery violations adjudicated in an administrative court?
NOAA General Counsel’s Enforcement Section prosecutes civil violations. Currently, administrative law judges employed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hear NOAA cases. In contrast, the U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes criminal violations in federal courts.
Where can I find the results of prosecutions for civil federal fisheries violations?
NOAA's civil administrative case law is available through any of the General Counsel’s Enforcement Section offices and online through LexisNexis and Westlaw.
Working with Partners
What is NOAA’s law enforcement jurisdiction?
Our primary jurisdiction is the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which includes waters from 3 to 200 miles off the U.S. coast, including more than 3 million square miles of open ocean and more than 95,000 miles of coastline. This includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and four marine national monuments. We enforce more than 35 federal statutes, but most of our work falls under five acts:
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- Lacey Act
- Marine Mammal Protection Act
- Endangered Species Act
- National Marine Sanctuaries Act
What is the difference between NOAA’s special agents and enforcement officers and state resource enforcement officers?
State officers are responsible for enforcing state laws and regulations within the state’s jurisdiction, which is within 3 miles of the coast. They are also sometimes responsible for terrestrial regulations (e.g., hunting, forestry, or land). NOAA’s special agents and enforcement officers enforce federal laws and regulations within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which is from 3 to 200 miles offshore. They also enforce any violations of the Endangered Species Act wherever they might occur and international treaties and obligations on the high seas.
Are state conservation officers acting as federally deputized officers when they issue violation notices for federal marine fishery infractions?
Yes. Law enforcement officers who are members of a partner agency are authorized under our cooperative enforcement agreements to perform duties relating to the law enforcement provisions of any marine resource law authorized by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and any regulations under those laws.
Does NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement prosecute cases?
No. We enforce laws and investigate crimes, but we do not prosecute cases. NOAA’s Office of General Counsel is our primary legal partner and prosecutes civil cases. The U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney’s Office are our legal advisors and prosecutorial partners in criminal matters.
General Inquiries from Citizens
How far away should I be from marine mammals to avoid disturbing them?
For your safety and the protection of marine wildlife, you should admire marine mammals from a distance. In general, NOAA Fisheries recommends you stay at least 100 yards away from marine mammals.
Some marine mammal species have minimum viewing distances required by federal regulations. These include:
- North Atlantic right whales: do not approach within 500 yards
- Southern resident killer whales Pacific Northwest): do not approach within 200 yards
- Humpback whales: do not approach within 100 yards in Hawaiian or Alaskan waters
For guidance on responsible marine wildlife viewing in each region of the country, please visit: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/education/viewing.htm
Who do I call if I see a sick or dead marine animal on the beach?
Please contact your local marine mammal stranding network member if you see a sick or dead marine animal on the beach.