Commerce IG says fisheries officials illegally shredded documents in probe 

Commerce IG says fisheries officials illegally shredded documents in probe

An unpublished Inspector-General’s report obtained by The Examiner said officials of the Office of Law Enforcement (OLE) for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) destroyed hundreds of documents in a “shredding party” in November 2009 “in the middle of an investigation by the Office of the Inspector-General.”

The NMFS is part of the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and is responsible for regulating the nation’s commercial fisheries off the coasts. The IG report resulted from an investigation of complaints by several congressmen of “heavy-handed and unfair enforcement activities” directed against commercial fishermen in New England.

NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenko has imposed a controversial regulatory plan on the New England fisheries that critics within and without the industry say is putting most commercial fishermen out of business. The NOAA plan ostensibly is intended to reduce the impact on the supply of commercial fishing species.

The IG report said Dale Jones, director of the OLE, approved the shredding by a commercial document destruction truck. Most of the files destroyed were from Jones’ office, including the contents of 140 or more files that made up 80 percent of all the documents in his office.

Jones, assisted by several senior members of his staff, “undertook this document destruction without regard to the careful, deliberate management of records required by federal regulation and Department of Commerce policy.”

The IG report said “such compliance is particularly troubling given OLE’s obligation to ensure proper management of its own records – especially as a federal law enforcement agency that enforces record-keeping violations by the fishing industry it regulates.”

The shredding, the IG report said, was done despite the requirement to provide multiple documents to the OIG and ongoing litigation related to OLE activities.

The shredding thus “implicates an appearance of impeding both the OIG investigation and the litigation.”

Jones told the IG that he “was surprised the shredding raised any concerns because there was no attempt to be ‘clandestine’ with it, and at the time he simply did not think of it in relation to the ongoing OIG review.”

 

 

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