The NOAA Office of Law Enforcement has issued this updated Enforcment Priorities document for the…
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 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 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.
3+ million square miles of open-ocean and 95,000 miles of coastline
NOAA Fisheries monitors and protects the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, 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 includes 13 national marine sanctuaries and four 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.
As a country, we import 90 percent of the seafood we consume. 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. For example, we play a key role in the enforcement of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora when related to marine wildlife.
Examples of Our Work
Our expertise in environmental crime, criminal investigations, the fishing industry, vessel monitoring systems, and case management is consistently sought by the international community. Our special agents and attorneys regularly attend Regional Fishery Management Organization meetings such as the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas to provide enforcement expertise and legal advice on compliance issues and the development of new conservation and management measures.
We provided boots-on-the-ground, hands-on training to developing countries to help them protect their own waters. In 2012, our agents and analysts completed monitoring, control, and surveillance surveys for the six countries in the Coral Triangle—Indonesia, the Philippine Islands, Malaysia, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste—to assess what each of the countries is doing to protect its own Economic Exclusive Zone and what their needs are. Because the countries also share maritime boundaries, we used this information to conduct a transboundary workshop for three of the six countries in 2013.
Our agents have also provided training on the use of turtle excluder devices to Central American nations through the Organization of Fishing and Aquaculture in Central America and have provided training to Indonesian fisheries officials on implementation of the Port State Measures Agreement that would close ports of convenience to illegal, unreported, and unregulated vessels.
We are seeing increased recognition of international fisheries crime from other law enforcement agencies. INTERPOL, the world’s largest international police organization, created a Fisheries Crime Working Group in 2011 that conducted several test studies to assess the ability of INTERPOL to combat these types of crimes.
Combating IUU Fishing
Much of our international work focuses on illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, capacity building and technical assistance. We have a robust and growing international program, working with various international organizations in the protection and conservation of global marine resources.
Capacity building involves providing organizations and communities the tools, resources, information, and information sharing avenues to allow them to solve IUU fishing issues, usually through technical assistance and training workshops. We provide capacity building and technical assistance to international partners and agencies through government to government interactions. Through a key partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development, we respond to requests for assistance in building enforcement capacity in areas of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands to combat IUU fishing, wildlife trafficking, and to promote sustainable seafood practices.
We also work closely with our Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection, the Department of State, Department of State International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, and other agencies to coordinate sustainable fisheries and wildlife trafficking assistance in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean.
Law Enforcement and International Partnerships
International partnerships are critical to combating IUU fishing. OLE 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. We are enhancing our international activities in the following areas.
Information Sharing and Cooperation in Combating IUU Fishing
The heightened focus on combating IUU fishing globally has made international cooperation increasingly important. Organizations such as INTERPOL have created a Fisheries Crime Working Group to coordinate transnational operations to counteract IUU fishing. OLE actively participates in this forum as well as in routine coordination with other nations. These operations detect and intercept IUU fishing activity and trade in IUU fish or other protected marine species products.
For example, OLE closely coordinates with Canada and Mexico. As bordering countries with similar challenges in enforcing fisheries and preventing protected marine species trafficking, we periodically conduct joint enforcement operations. These operations use a location-based approach to monitor marine products being traded across our mutual borders. This prevents incursions into each country’s exclusive economic zone and lets us share information between enforcement agencies to intercept illegal products in trade.
OLE also has formal agreements with the European Union and Russia to share information and cooperate to combat IUU fishing and trafficking in IUU fish products. Under these two agreements, our countries meet annually to discuss and update cooperative efforts and milestones.
Technical Assistance and Training
OLE provides technical assistance through bilateral, multilateral, and regional cooperation. To enhance fisheries enforcement capacity, OLE engages in direct government-to-government projects. Additionally, OLE helps multiple national governments and organizations collaborate regionally to tackle enforcement operations across boundaries and build capacity through exchanges. For example, OLE works with the U.S. Agency for International Development to provide in-country training to government agencies in Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, and Thailand, among others. OLE and the U.S. State Department are also partnering with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization to build capacity in several Caribbean and Latin American countries for implementing the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Port State Measures Agreement.
OLE also continues to work with the Regional Plan of Action to Promote Responsible Fishing Practices Including Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing in the Southeast Asia Region. While OLE is not a member of the organization, OLE routinely works with its members and has coordinated training workshops in the region. OLE supports the organization’s efforts to enhance fisheries enforcement to combat IUU fishing and promote sustainable fishing practices in the region.
Additionally, OLE actively participates in and advocates for the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network. This voluntary organization is the only global organization specifically focused on fisheries monitoring, control, and surveillance practitioners—inspectors, investigators, and prosecutors. To develop effective communication, collaboration, and training, the International Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance Network hosts a Global Fisheries Enforcement Training Workshop. There have been five workshops since 2005, and OLE has attended each of these workshops hosted in Malaysia, Norway, Mozambique, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. These workshops aim to enable participants to build contacts with monitoring, control, and surveillance specialists across the world; learn about the most effective approaches to combat IUU fishing activities; receive exposure to new problem-solving strategies for IUU fishing issues; and build relationships for locating resources to detect or resolve IUU fishing incidents.
Participation in International Regional Fisheries Management Organizations
The United States is a member of numerous regional fisheries management organizations. OLE serves on U.S. delegations to annual and intersessional meetings to promote information sharing; develop enforcement and compliance guidelines; ensure effective and enforceable conservation measures are developed; work toward collective solutions to global fisheries enforcement challenges; and generate a standard for assessing violations of conservation measures. OLE serves on delegations to various bilateral, multilateral, and regional fisheries management organization meetings on enforcement-related topics. Some larger commissions that OLE participates in include:
- Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources
- International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas
- International Pacific Halibut Commission
- Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission
- Western and Central Pacific Fishery Commission
- Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization
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.
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