The US commerce secretary has reversed course and said yesterday that he will allow more fishermen who have been accused of violations to have their cases reviewed for fairness by a special investigator.
Commerce Secretary Gary Locke also said he agreed to give the investigator discretion to freeze pending penalties against those fishermen.
Locke had denied both requests in January, drawing protests from Northeastern lawmakers who said it was another assault by the federal government on the region’s fishing industry.
Earlier this month, Locke and Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, met with Senator John Kerry to discuss fishing issues. Last week, Kerry wrote requesting, among other things, the concessions that Locke is now granting.
Kerry called Locke’s move a “welcome first step to repair the relationship’’ between fishermen and government regulators.
“Our fishermen, fishing communities, and the Massachusetts congressional delegation have been ringing this alarm bell and this is very welcome news that the government is responding,’’ Kerry said.
Earlier this month, President Obama nominated Locke as the next US ambassador to China, and Kerry is the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, which reviews such nominations. Asked if there were political implications to the decision announced yesterday, Locke responded, “Not at all.’’
Locke said he decided to allow fishermen to file more complaints after speaking earlier this month with his investigator, retired Judge Charles Swartwood, about whether fishermen had been given adequate opportunity to file complaints.
“I determined that we needed to, out of fairness, out of just going the extra mile, to make sure that we were addressing any and all concerns and complaints, that we would reopen this,’’ Locke said in a conference call.
Richard Burgess, a Gloucester fishermen who has fought $85,000 worth of fines for what he describes as minor bureaucratic and paperwork violations, said Locke’s move is a start but more needs to done to make things right.