by Capt. Steve Byrne
If you have read any of my conservation focused angling articles, you already know that I believe poaching is one of the biggest obstacles in improving our fisheries – in particular, blackfish and striped bass. That position comes from years of on the water observation – and while I'm no fan of poachers, you can hardly blame them. The combination of difficult economic times and near-zero enforcement creates an easy money temptation that struggling fishermen find difficult to resist.
Just in case anyone thinks I'm getting soft on poachers; forget it. There are lots of us struggling economically – it's no excuse to abuse the resource and if you get busted, don't expect any sympathy from me, ‘cause it ain't happening.
Anglers have asked for increased enforcement for years, only to be told repeatedly that, "There just isn't enough in the budget."
And THAT is what makes the following story so disturbing.
In response to a freedom of information request, the Office of the Inspector General released a July 2011 report on irregularities in NOAA's purchase and use of a $300,000 luxury boat.
The boat was purchased with monies from the Asset Forfeiture Fund, which consists of funds from fines levied against commercial fishermen. Commercial anglers are using this report to support the position that the government needs to back off from fining commercial vessels, but I'm not sure I am ready to leap to that conclusion.
By all means, if fishermen (commercial or recreational) are caught breaking the rules they should have to pay the piper – improper use of the funds doesn't change that. What really juggles my onions is the misuse of money that could have paid for more enforcement units. You know, the ones they have been telling me they can't afford for the past 10 years or so.
Do yourself a favor and read the OIG report
if you haven't already.
Update appears below -
I questioned myself after posting: What is the purpose of the Asset Forfeiture Fund? Can it be used to help the states marine law enforcement efforts? The answer is a resounding YES.
Not only does the AFF specifically prohibit "funding for any vessel purchases or leases," but it ALLOWS for "Reimbursement to other Federal or State agencies for enforcement related services provided pursuant to an agreement entered into with NOAA."
Check out details of NOAA Policy on Prohibited and Approved Uses of the Asset Forfeiture Fund