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An Investigation into the Wrongful Management Practices of Southeast Observer Programs

In September, 2011, a Southeast Fisheries Observer in the Pelagic Observer Program came forward to APO with allegations of broad-scale mismanagement of observer programs in the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Southeast Observer Programs. We contacted other observers (current and former) and found out that the problems were not just limited to the POP but region-wide. We brought this to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility who assisted us in filing a complaint with NOAA's Office of Inspector General (OIG), requesting an investigation. The allegations against NMFS included: Ignoring witnessed violations by fisheries observers; failure to enforce laws that support the safety and welfare of observers; ignoring plastics pollution reported by observers; ignoring the dangers of the BP oil spill exposure to observers; and blackballing fisheries observers if they refuse unsafe trips or otherwise question program management. Please see the press release here.

Unfortunately,the OIG responded by vetting the investigation to NMFS, the very agency accused of wrongdoing. Here is their summary. The rest of the report is as follows:

Appendix 1: APO/PEER Complaint

Appendix 2-4: SE Observer Program Internal Controls

Appendix 5: Observer Harassment Cases

Appendix 6-8: Investigative Team Timeline; BP Oil Spill E-mails; Questionnaire

Appendix 9: SE NMFS Staff Interview Questions

Appendix 10: Incidental Take Permit Issues

Appendix 11: Observer Responses

Appendix 12: Observer Accommodation Violations; Declaration claiming independence of investigative team (note the absence of the third investigator, the NMFS SE Director).

The OIG shortly redacted the entire report and instead directed NMFS to conduct a national review of all observer program management practices in the US. This had the effect of merely reporting on management practices, diluting regionally rogue federal practices and not requiring any changes or reports, as in the original report.

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