Apparently, Members of Congress have not been reading our Overcriminalization blogs. How do we know this? Because the International Fisheries Stewardship and Enforcement Act (IFSEA) is the embodiment of much of what our blogs have highlighted is wrong with legislation.
The Senate sponsors of IFSEA didn’t have the votes to pass it as a standalone bill when it was introduced in January 2011, so they tried to attach it to an appropriations bill, the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2012. They did this believing the appropriations bill had a better chance of becoming law. Appropriations bills should, of course, not include new substantive laws.
IFSEA was purportedly designed to help with the enforcement of international fishing standards, but that is not all it does. The IFSEA would also:
- Increase without justification already severe criminal penalties;
- Expand the authority of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to promulgate new regulations that provide for criminal penalties for violations; and
- Provide NOAA with additional funding for law enforcement purposes.
Thanks to the resolve of Senator Rand Paul (R–KY), IFSEA was removed from the Coast Guard Authorization Act. Senator Paul should be applauded for being concerned about overcriminalization, for practicing what he preaches, and for protecting the public against bad public policy.
Under the proposed law, penalties for 12 statutes that deal with fishing conservation (who can fish, where they can fish, which fish can be caught, how many can be caught, etc.) would have increased from six months in jail to up to five years. While we realize that many elected officials wish to portray themselves as “tough on crime” and “deeply committed to the environment,” isn’t the possibility of a six-month prison sentence and hefty criminal fines a sufficient deterrent already? Is it really necessary to threaten people with going to jail for five years because they fished in the wrong area, caught the wrong kind of fish, or exceeded their legal catch limit?
IFSEA would have given NOAA an additional $30 million per year to implement the program. NOAA already has a long history of abusing its power by threatening fishermen—and now marine biologists—with prison time in order to squeeze huge fines out of them.