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Federal fish cops caught partying on government-bought ‘luxury’ boat

Amanda Coyne
C-Span image / Courtesy of Sen. Scott Brown

U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has called for the resignation of the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) after he disclosed documents that show federal fish investigators going rogue on a government purchased, $300,000 “luxury boat” in Seattle.

The fish cops bought the boat in 2008 to spy on private whale-watching charters in Puget Sound so the charters didn’t break federal rules by getting closer than 100 yards to the whales.

But according to an internal investigation by the Commerce Department released by Brown on Friday, the cops used the boat exclusively to host parties, family barbeques, and to tool around the Puget Sound visiting restaurants and resorts, doing thousands of dollars of damage on the boat in the process.

The investigation was spurred by a whistleblower who questioned the acquisition and use of the boat. According to the documents, federal agents, using National Marine Fisheries Service money, bought the 35-foot, 14-passenger boat in 2008. Money for the boat came from the pockets of fisherman who had violated the law and paid fines.

The purchase itself wasn’t illegal. However the report found that federal agents “manipulated the acquisition process,”  misrepresented the need for such an expensive boat, and then lied about the acquisition and misled investigators. 

Brown called the boat a “booze cruise” during a speech on the Senate floor after release of the investigation.

“For a government vessel, that’s pretty flashy,” Brown said holding up a picture of a different boat, but one of the same model as the one used by the cops. “Take a look inside. That’s a fully-appointed bar, the latest in on-board entertainment systems, and leather furniture complete with the ice chest and tackle rack," he said. 

Read the full, scathing speech here.

Brown has no love for NOAA chief Jane Lubchenco and her avocation of, among other things, privatizing the East Coast fishing stock by imposing the kinds of “catch share” rules that Alaska uses. Brown and other East Coast politicians and fisherman have said that such plans put small fisherman out of business.

They also say that such a system leads to the kind of corruption recently brought to light when U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's top fishing aide Arne Fuglvog was busted for cheating on his own catch shares while serving on the regulation-setting North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Brown has repeatedly called for Lubchenco’s resignation, particularly following a 2010 Inspector General’s report that found widespread dysfunction within NOAA and the agency’s enforcement of its fishing policies. Among other things, the report focused on the how it levies fines against private fisherman, and how it spends forfeiture funds -- the kind of money used to buy the luxury boat.

"As you’ve seen here today, NOAA has a culture of corruption that has created a chasm of distrust between the agency and the fishing industry," Brown said on Friday.

Contact Amanda Coyne at Amanda(at)alaskadispatch.com