What does NOAA’S Office of Law Enforcement do?
OLE protects marine fisheries, wildlife, and habitat by enforcing domestic laws and international treaty obligations to ensure these global resources are available for future generations to use and enjoy. We are the only federal law enforcement agency fully dedicated to the enforcement of federal fishery regulations. Our work supports NOAA Fisheries’ core mission mandates—maximizing productivity of sustainable fisheries and fishing communities and protection, recovery, and conservation of protected species.
OLE helps protect law-abiding U.S. fishermen from unfair competition and from people who try to cheat the system. Our mission is also critical to ensuring the sustainability of global marine resources as well as U.S. fisheries.
How does OLE conduct enforcement activities?
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement accomplishes its mission through:
- Patrols, investigations, and monitoring.
- Outreach and compliance assistance.
- Use of innovative technological tools.
- Partnerships with state, tribal, federal, and nongovernmental organizations.
- Cooperative fisheries enforcement to implement international treaties and obligations.
Our primary jurisdiction is the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which includes waters from 3 to 200 miles off the U.S. coast, including more than 3 million square miles of open ocean and more than 95,000 miles of coastline. This area also contains 13 national marine sanctuaries and four marine national monuments.
All sworn personnel have the authority to interview witnesses, gather intelligence and evidence, and execute search warrants and make arrests. They also write summary settlements, prepare case packages, and work with NOAA’s Office of General Counsel and the Department of Justice.
What laws are enforced by OLE?
We enforce more than 35 federal statutes, but most of our work falls under six acts:
- Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
- Endangered Species Act
- Marine Mammal Protection Act
- National Marine Sanctuaries Act
- Lacey Act
- Northern Pacific Halibut Act of 1982
Who are some of OLE’s partners?
To enhance active enforcement presence, visibility, and industry interactions, OLE partners with state, federal, and territorial marine law enforcement agencies.
The Cooperative Enforcement Program (CEP) enables OLE to join forces with state and territorial partners. Through signed Joint Enforcement Agreements (JEAs), our partners are deputized to enforce federal laws and regulations. Currently 28 JEAs are active in various states and territories. OLE also partners with federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Coast Guard.
International partners have become even more important with the increased focus on combating illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing. In addition to the Regional Fishery Management Organizations (RFMOs), we partner with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and with marine resource enforcement entities from Indonesia, Philippines, Mexico, China, and Canada, to name a few.
What is the vessel monitoring system?
The vessel monitoring system (VMS) is a satellite surveillance system primarily used to monitor the location and movement of commercial fishing vessels within U.S. jurisdiction and treaty areas. The system uses satellite-based communications from on-board transceiver units, which certain vessels are required to carry. The transceiver units send position reports that include vessel identification, time, date, and location, and are mapped and displayed on the end user’s computer screen.
VMS is used to support law enforcement initiatives and to prevent violations of laws and regulations. VMS also helps enforcement personnel focus their time on areas with the highest potential for significant violations. It is used as evidence in the prosecution of many environmental laws and regulations including regional fishing quotas, the Endangered Species Act, and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.
The VMS program currently monitors more than 4,000 vessels. It is the largest national VMS fleet in the world. The system operates 24 hours a day with near-perfect accuracy. Learn more about vessel monitoring.
How do I report a violation?
NOAA Fisheries' Enforcement Hotline ((800) 853-1964) provides live operator coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States to report a federal marine resource violation. During regular business hours, you may also contact the closest NOAA Office of Law Enforcement field office to report a possible violation.