This Fourth of July week, the biggest display of fireworks may well be at the NMFS' Seattle office of law enforcement. The boom could be heard in February when a report from Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser revealed alleged misuse of funds gleaned from fishing fines within the agency, including the purchase of a USD 300,000 luxury yacht that some agents were using for social outings.??
But the light show didn’t begin until mid-May when NMFS reportedly abruptly replaced the regional law enforcement chief, Vicki Nomura, reassigned her to the agency’s headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and began conducting a review of her office’s activities.??
What remains to be seen is whether this investigation reveals more abuses and what will be done to rectify the damages.??
In the Northeast, NMFS and NOAA have thus far fallen flat on calling abusers to the carpet. In fact, purchase of the boat was approved by Dale Jones Jr., then director of law enforcement for NMFS. Jones is now wrapped up in fine-abuse scandals on both coasts. Yet, he remains a NOAA employee, having been shifted into a position that pays more than USD150,000 a year.??
The inspector general deserves praise for unearthing these abuses. But what's the point of exposing them if the only “punishment” is to reassign to well-compensated positions the high-level officials under whom widespread corruption appears to have been status quo? It’s all sound and no fury.??
The oceans may need some help, but NMFS law enforcement has to be treading some of the nation’s murkiest waters.??
Meanwhile, those of us who keep our eyes on the industry are waiting for the grand finale.