BOSTON — A luxury undercover boat purchased with fines collected from fishermen was used by federal fishery police to visit dockside restaurants and for high-speed “pleasure cruising,” according to documents released Friday.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration bought the 35-foot boat for about $300,000, so its law enforcement officers could secretly monitor whether whale watch boats off the coast of Washington state were harassing the animals.
But the documents indicate the boat was rarely used for official business.
“It was a fishermen-funded party boat for bureaucrats,” U.S. Sen. Scott Brown said on the Senate floor Friday.
The Massachusetts Republican’s office obtained the November 2011 documents after a Freedom of Information Act request.
The purchase of the boat was first disclosed in July 2010, as part of an ongoing audit by the Inspector General of the U.S. Commerce Department on how the millions in fines paid by fishermen were being used.
The audit uncovered broad mismanagement of the money; NOAA has since reformed how the fines are handled.
On Friday, Brown said the boat was a symbol of wasteful Washington spending and NOAA’s damaged relationship with fishermen. He repeated his request that President Barack Obama fire NOAA Chief Jane Lubchenco.
“This needs to change and accountability starts at the top,” he said. “If not now, when? If not for this, then for what?”
NOAA didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The agency’s law enforcement office can levy fines as large as six figures for violations of the nation’s complicated fisheries laws, which regulate things such as where fishermen can fish and at what times, what gear they can use and how they must report their catch.