Beyond science and regulations, we enforce more than 40 laws designed to protect marine life and their habitat. We enforce domestic laws and international treaty requirements to ensure these global marine resources are available for future generations. In partnership with states and other federal agencies, our special agents and enforcement officers work on all U.S. coasts and inland riverways to ensure compliance with the nation’s marine resource laws and take enforcement action when violators disobey the laws.
Our primary jurisdiction is the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 230 miles (200 nautical miles) off the U.S. coast. In total, our enforcement operations cover more than 95,000 miles of coastline and more than 4 million square miles of ocean. This includes 14 marine sanctuaries and five marine national monuments.
Key laws we enforce:
40+ laws enforced by NOAA Fisheries
These include the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, National Marine Sanctuaries Act, Lacey Act, and North Pacific Halibut Act.
4+ million square miles of open-ocean and 95,000 miles of coastline
Our primary jurisdiction is the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 230 miles (200 nautical miles) off the U.S. coast. In total, our enforcement operations cover more than 95,000 miles of coastline and over 4 million square miles of ocean. This includes 14 marine sanctuaries and five marine national monuments.
4,000+ fishing vessels
The number of fishing vessels monitored by our Vessel Monitoring System. It is the largest national VMS fleet in the world.
Report a Violation
Call (800) 853-1964 to report possible violations of our federal marine resource laws. We provide live operator coverage 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for anyone in the United States. During business hours, you also may call the closest Office of Law Enforcement office to report a possible violation.
Wildlife Viewing Guidelines
Watching marine animals in their natural habitat can be a positive way to promote conservation and respect for the animals and the marine environment. However, human activities—even those that might seem harmless or be well intended—can disturb animals, destroy important habitats, and even result in injury to people and animals. Please learn how to responsibly share the shore and sea with marine life for your safety and theirs and because it’s the law.
We established enforcement priorities that outline our focus on making enforcement work as effectively and efficiently as possible for sustainable fisheries management and the protection and conservation of marine species. While the identified priority areas will be our focus, we will continue to encourage compliance with and enforce all of the marine statutes and regulations we are responsible for.
We want to help you abide the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources. The rules change frequently, and we want to keep you informed. Through compliance assistance, we help educate users about the rules so they can take the appropriate actions.
The Vessel Monitoring System allows us to use 21st century technologies to monitor compliance, track violators, and provide substantial evidence for prosecution.
How We Use It
VMS is used to support law enforcement initiatives and to prevent violations of laws and regulations. VMS also helps enforcement personnel focus their patrol time on areas with the highest potential for significant violations.
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, 7 days a week with near-perfect accuracy, which is why the program is of interest to other users, including the U.S. Coast Guard, academia, and the coastal states. VMS data is, by law, subject to strict confidentiality requirements.
How It Works
VMS is a satellite surveillance system primarily used to monitor the location and movement of commercial fishing vessels in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone 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.
Each vessel typically sends position reports once an hour, but increases intervals when the vessel is approaching an environmentally sensitive area. Alerts can be sent to the VMS technicians and other personnel when a particular vessel location might require additional inquiry or contact with the vessel operator.
Other Uses for the Vessel Monitoring System
- Managing sensitive and protected areas, like marine sanctuaries.
- Monitoring activity and arrivals in port to plan for sampling.
- Supporting catch share programs.
- Tracking, monitoring, and predicting fishing effort, activity, and location.
- Managing observer programs.
- Verifying/validating data from other sources.
- Identifying fishing vessels.
Regional Vessel Monitoring System Information
For program management inquiries, contact Kelly Spalding at email@example.com.
For VMS compliance and technical assistance, contact VMS Support at firstname.lastname@example.org or (888) 219-9228.
The Cooperative Enforcement Program aims to increase living marine resource conservation, endangered species protection, and critical habitat enforcement while strengthening state and territorial enforcement resources.
The program uses two main tools to accomplish its goals:
- Cooperative Enforcement Agreements, which authorize state and U.S. territorial marine conservation law enforcement officers to enforce federal laws and regulations.
- Joint Enforcement Agreements, which include a formal operations plan that transfers funds to state and U.S. territorial law enforcement agencies to perform law enforcement services in support of federal regulations.
We partner with state and territorial marine and natural resource enforcement agencies to enhance our active presence, visibility, and interactions with the regulated industry. Partnerships with these enforcement agencies help promote compliance with federal laws and regulations under our purview, and our law enforcement agents and officers leverage Joint Enforcement Agreement partnerships to conduct joint operations.
The United States is one of the world’s leading destinations for globally harvested seafood. Estimates indicate that more than 80 percent of the seafood consumed annually in the United States is imported.
We work with various international organizations to protect and conserve global marine resources. This means that in addition to national laws, we enforce international laws, treaties, and agreements that the United States signs as they relate to areas under our jurisdiction.
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement prioritizes efforts with foreign countries, federal partners, and non-governmental organizations to detect and prevent IUU fish and fish products from entering U.S. markets. We bring to justice those who seek to profit from this activity. In support of this priority, our International Operations Division leads a multi-faceted approach that includes:
- Monitoring imports into the United States, as well as seafood products in global trade
- Partnering with other federal and state law enforcement agencies to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud throughout the United States
- Engaging in multilateral and bilateral discussions with international partners to create enforceable provisions to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing and develop cooperation and collaboration in detecting, deterring, and interdicting IUU fishing activity and trade
- Supporting broad and effective global implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement
- Providing technical assistance to global partners, with emphasis on major exporters of seafood to the United States, to assist in developing the fisheries enforcement capacity to detect and interdict IUU fish and fish products before they enter the global market
- Educating the public, consumers, and international audiences about the impacts of IUU fishing and fishing-related activities
Working Internationally with Law Enforcement Partners
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement relies on cooperation and partnerships at home and abroad in the protection and conservation of global marine resources. At home, OLE has forged critical partnerships to coordinate counter-IUU fishing assistance in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. Along with other NOAA offices, we partner with:
- State and territorial law enforcement partners
- U.S. Coast Guard
- Department of State and its International Narcotics and Law Enforcement division
- U.S. Agency for International Development
- Department of Defense
Beyond our borders, international partnerships—both formal and informal—play a critical role in our efforts to combat IUU fishing.
Information Sharing and Cooperation
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement continually works to increase our collaboration with international partners. These activities include information sharing, joint law enforcement operations, technical assistance to increase fisheries enforcement capacity, and participation in meetings between two or more countries.
Examples of international cooperation and information sharing:
- Member of international organizations specifically designed to combat IUU fishing such as INTERPOL’s Fisheries Crime Working Group
- Participant in, and advocate of, the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network, a voluntary global organization specifically focused on fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance practitioners—inspectors, investigators, and prosecutors
- Supporter of the Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices Including Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in the Southeast Asia Region
- Observer to the “Network of Exchange of information and experiences among Latin American and Caribbean countries to Prevent, Discourage and Eliminate IUU Fishing,” which enhances information sharing and collaboration with all of the fisheries law enforcement entities engaged in this network
- In addition, we have formal agreements with the European Union and Russia to share information and cooperate to combat IUU fishing and trafficking in IUU fish products
Participating in International Regional Fisheries Management Organizations
NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement represents the United States on numerous regional fisheries management organizations. We serve on U.S. delegations to annual and intersessional meetings to provide enforcement expertise on compliance issues and the development of new conservation and management measures. Some larger commissions we participate in include:
- Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
- International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
- Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
- North Pacific Fisheries Commission
- Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization
- South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization
- Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission
Implementing the Port State Measures Agreement
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter, and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing seeks to prevent IUU fishing through the adoption and implementation of effective port state measures. These measures are a means of ensuring the long-term conservation and sustainable use of marine life. NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is the primary agency responsible for implementing the Agreement, in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard.
Capacity Building and Technical Assistance
The international community consistently seeks NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s expertise in environmental crime, criminal investigations, the fishing industry, vessel monitoring systems, and case management. Much of our international work focuses on combating illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing through capacity building and technical assistance to international partners and agencies through government to government interactions.
On a weekly basis, we'll post highlights of our enforcement actions below and examples of high-interest violation notices. This does not include all weekly actions taken by our officers or special agents.
These priorities were developed through an extensive stakeholder engagement process and included an…
Medical and Physical Standards for NOAA Special Agents and Enforcement Officers.
Data & Maps
Electronic Monitoring service providers approved for the 2024 and 2025 fishing years
Outreach & Education
Outreach poster developed by NOAA Fisheries and the Hawai'i Division of Boating and Ocean…
Plain-language summary of changes to to fishing regulations regarding new requirements for…
Compliance Guide for 2020 changes to the Vessel Monitoring System Program, updated May 2020
Approved Models and Equipment for Careful Release of Sea Turtles Caught in Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Fishery and South Atlantic Snapper Grouper Fishery
Information to help fishermen comply with sea turtle release requirements contained in regulations…