Fishy business over the pond

The Attorney General for Massachusetts has urged the US Congress to stop allowing the marine enforcement agency to keep proceeds of fines and forfeitures it imposes on fishermen.

Former Commerce Secretary Gary Locke  set up an investigation into the forfeiture activities of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

His appointee, federal Inspector General Todd Zinser, found

“extensive waste, fraud and abuse by the agency. It also proved what fishermen have long suspected: allowing NOAA Fisheries to retain the proceeds from forfeitures, seizures, fines and penalties against fishermen gives the agency a perverse incentive to continue its abusive enforcement practices against fishermen. This conflict of interest must be eliminated.”

Congressman Barney Frank and Senator John Kerry have launched bills in Congress and Senate respectively to remove the NOAA access to seized funds.  Both bills would establish a formal process to reimburse fishermen and related businesses for legal fees incurred in successfully challenging enforcement penalties.

As any student of “freakonomics” will tell you, every economic incentive creates a perverse result.  Incentivising confiscation by sharing the proceeds with enforcement agencies has produced an international system of state-licensed banditry, in which the assets of innocent and guilty alike are meat for a hungry public sector.

The UK has many great examples of this.  Watch this spot.

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