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Enforcement actions protect sustainable fisheries

Preventing overfishing and rebuilding stocks depends not only on state-of-the-art science and management programs, but also on fair and effective enforcement. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and Office of General Counsel help make sure that fishermen and others in the fishing industry follow the rules put in place to sustain fisheries resources for the long term.

On May 8, 2013, American Seafoods Company and the owners and operators of the catcher/processors Ocean Rover and Northern Eagle were charged by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for tampering with the equipment used for weighing Alaska pollock. Pollock on these vessels are processed for many uses, from frozen fish sticks and imitation crab to roe and fish oil.

The respondents in these cases are alleged to have adjusted their flow scales to record lower weights, and then recorded these inaccurate weights in their logbooks in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the American Fisheries Act.

Flow scales are used to ensure accurate catch accounting. Adjusting the equipment to record a lower weight allowed the vessels to go over their quotas, essentially stealing fish from others permitted in the Alaska pollock fishery.

Felony and major civil cases involving the potential for significant damage to the resource or to the integrity of management schemes are a high priority for the Alaska Division of NOAA’s Law Enforcement, which investigated these cases. 

“We are enforcing regulations at all levels of industry,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge Matthew Brown. “Our focus is not on the ‘big guy’ or the ‘little guy.’ Our focus is on the damage to the resource.  Violations of this magnitude have the potential to severely impact fisheries if left unchecked.”

The Alaska pollock fishery is one of the largest, most valuable fisheries in the world. It’s also considered one of the best-managed fisheries in the world, adopting U.S. catch shares management early. Every year, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council adjusts the amount of Alaska pollock fishermen can harvest according to pollock population levels and other factors, such as the overall limit on groundfish catch for the eastern Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands region. Trained observers closely monitor catches to ensure that limits of pollock, and of other species incidentally caught in the pollock fishery (bycatch), are not exceeded.

“We view sustainability as a process rather than an end point,” said NOAA Fisheries’ Sam Rauch, on announcing the 2012 Report to Congress on the Status of U.S. Fisheries earlier this month. “Cases like these help us actively manage our fisheries to achieve the greatest benefit for the nation.”

These are not the first cases of their kind. NOAA’s Office of General Counsel issued a Notice of Violation and Assessment (NOVA) in January 2012 for similar violations alleged to have occurred on another American Seafoods Company catcher/processor, the American Dynasty. The penalty being sought in this pending case is $543,500. In the Ocean Rover case, NOAA’s Office of  General Counsel issued a NOVA proposing an assessed penalty of $848,000; in the Northern Eagle case, General Counsel issued a NOVA proposing an assessed penalty of $1,337,000.

A NOVA is issued to persons and entities believed to be responsible for an alleged violation, which could include owners and operators of vessels. The respondents have 30 days from the receipt of the NOVA to respond by paying the penalty, seeking to have the assessment modified, or requesting a hearing before an administrative law judge to deny or contest all or any part of the charges and the penalties assessed.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement and Office of General Counsel protect marine wildlife and habitat by enforcing domestic laws and international treaty requirements designed to ensure these global resources are available for future generations.

Fair and effective law enforcement also is critical to sustaining the multi-billion dollar domestic commercial fishing industry.

This story was developed by Lesli Bales-Sherrod, communications specialist for NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. To contact her, please call 301-427-8234 or email

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