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 OLE conduct enforcement activities?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement accomplishes its mission through:
- 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
- Criminal and civil investigations
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.
What laws are enforced by OLE?
We enforce more than 35 federal statutes, but most of our work falls under five acts:
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Marine Mammal Protection Act
- National Marine Sanctuaries Act
- Lacey Act
What are the differences between OLE’s enforcement officers and special agents?
All sworn personnel have the authority to interview witnesses, gather intelligence and evidence, as well as execute search warrants. The primary difference is that enforcement officers conduct patrols and short term investigations, write summary settlements, and offer face-to-face interaction with the public, while special agents conduct longer term, complex investigations and undercover operations.
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?
As a federal agency, NOAA mission area extends from the bottom of the sea to the sun and stars. Different mission areas are grouped into Line Officers. The Fisheries Service is one line office within NOAA, and the National Weather Services is another line office. The Office of Law Enforcement falls under NOAA Fisheries and is focused on the enforcement of marine resource laws. NOAA’s National Weather Service 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 marine resource violation. During regular business hours, you also can call the closest Office of Law Enforcement field office to report possible violation or one of the five 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?
Penalties vary depending on the nature of the offense, any prior history of violations and other factors. The details of determining a possible sanction or penalty are described in a publicly available document that can be found online. For more information, please review the Policy for the Assessment of Civil Administrative Penalties and Permit Sanctions. NOAA’s Office of General Counsel is responsible for prosecuting civil cases and the U.S. Department of Justice handles all criminal cases.
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.
Working with Partners
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. 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 only.
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
What do I do if I find marine mammal bones on shore?
Please contact your local Office of Law Enforcement field office or call the hotline (1-800-853-1964) if you find marine mammal parts on shore. Please do not remove the biological artifacts as you may be in violation of marine resource laws.
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.