Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a press release confirming the appointment of Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Buckson as the new director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE). Richard Gaines, of the Gloucester Times, first reported that the current Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Deputy Director of Law Enforcement was in line for the agency’s top position. Bob Jones, executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, praised Lt Col Buckson in a statement to Americans for Forfeiture Reform,
“Col. Buckson would never have participated in activities similar to his predecessor. I think he will be a good head fed cop, as we like to describe the job. He has always been a straight shooter with us and understands the obligations that go with wearing a badge and a gun. He helped our industry root out backdoor sales of seafood to restaurants of illegally caught fish and has assisted greatly in trying to stop firms selling Vietnamese catfish for grouper.”
Speaking to Americans for Forfeiture Reform, Jim Hutchinson Jr, Managing Director of the Recreational Fishing Alliance and President of the New York Sportfishing Federation, noted the significant work to be done,
“It is our hope at the Recreational Fishing Alliance that Mr. Buckson can work toward restoring some of the trust which NOAA fisheries has lost as a result of their enforcement scandals and recent history of treating fishermen as criminals and enemies of the state. If he can accomplish that, and if NOAA can adopt a policy which recognizes the value of fishing communities (both culturally and economically) while ceasing with imposition of an ideology which threatens the very fabric of those communities, then perhaps optimism can again be part of coastal fishing in the U.S.”
In a March 2010 appearance before the Subcommitte on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife, Lt Col Buckson called for law enforcement to increase visibility, cooperation, and transparency from law enforcement. Buckson’s testimony in an August 2010 NOAA summit echoed these sentiments by calling for the involvement of stakeholder input and external outreach mechanisms to increase field compliance. His appointment can be understood as an attempt by NOAA to improve the performance and reputation of the troubled OLE. Lt Col Buckson’s bio reveals that he is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico and a recipient of numerous industry awards. The NOAA press release noted that “he will expand our dockside presence and improve communications with fishermen with the hiring of 23 new enforcement officers and lead the search for a new Special Agent in Charge for the Northeast Region.”
As head of NOAA’s OLE, Lt Col Buckson would be stepping into the position vacated by Dale Jones Jr. Jones’ tenure was marked by a litany of scandals including the misuse of asset forfeiture funds, egregiously bad accounting, and the shredding of documents relevant to a Commerce Department investigation. At this time, Jones still has not been terminated and holds a similar salary to the one that he enjoyed as head of the OLE.
One of the associates of Dale Jones Jr, Hal Robbins, a special agent in charge of enforcement in NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Division, does, however, appear to be departing. In an outstanding recent article, David Goodhue of the Reporter and Miami Herald, revealed that Robbins is set to retire at the end of the month. The systemic hiring irregularities including a lack of federal law enforcement training and little to no industry experience characterized several of Dale Jones Jr’s choices for top positions in NOAA’s OLE and has had a deleterious effect on the department. Goodhue quoted one of the agents who was an internal applicant for Robbins’ current job,
“The other agents were scared to death. They saw what happened to guys like me. They just were not going to rock the boat. They basically had the same job as a state game warden who makes $40,000 a year. They didn’t even have to leave the office if they didn’t want to and they were making $90,000 to $100,000 a year,” Coker said.