National Whistleblower Center Meets with Top U.S. Department of Commerce Officials

This week the National Whistleblower Center (NWC) met with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) General Counsel Peter Davidson and Senior Counsel James Uthmeier to discuss the implementation of whistleblower laws in their agency. NWC was represented by Executive Director Stephen M. Kohn, Managing Director of the Global Wildlife Whistleblower Program Scott Hajost, and Co-Chairperson of the Board Dr. Gina Green.

The meeting focused on how to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing using whistleblower reward laws. Since the DOC has jurisdiction over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), it is within their power to activate certain whistleblower reward provisions under U.S. wildlife laws, including the Lacey Act and Fish and Wildlife Improvement Act.

When speaking on IUU fishing, General Counsel Davidson commented that “Secretary Ross has a lot of interest in promoting U.S. aquaculture.” He continued, “combatting this illegal activity, it’s very similar to what we do on the trade front. It’s about unfair competition.”

The U.S. imports about 80% of its seafood. NOAA estimates that this leads to an annual seafood trade deficit of upwards of $13 billion USD. A 2014 study in Marine Policy shows that as many as one in three fish imported into the U.S. is caught illegally. In short, IUU fishing is a massive conservation and economic problem.

The implementation of whistleblower reward laws will serve to bolster the DOC’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan. NOAA’s strategic goals and objectives include “enforc[ing] the nation’s trade laws and security laws.” Another goal includes “strengthen[ing] domestic commerce and the U.S. industrial base.” Combatting IUU fishing contributes to these objectives by cutting down on “unfair competition” against American industry and rebalancing the seafood trade deficit.

Mr. Kohn explained why leveraging U.S. whistleblower reward laws will prove to be a powerful tool in combatting illegal fishing. “Whistleblowers are key to stopping this kind of crime,” said Mr. Kohn. “Even with technological advances, the whistleblower is the human safety net when combatting IUU fishing. They are your eyes and ears on-the-ground.”

Mr. Kohn continued that implementing whistleblower reward laws does not cut into the DOC budget. In fact, sanctions gained from winning cases has the potential to recover millions of dollars for the government. Other laws with whistleblower reward provisions, such as the False Claims Act, have been tremendously successful in combatting criminal activity. In 2017 alone, whistleblowers filing under the False Claims Act recovered $3.4 billion in federal funds.

There is currently massive support within the U.S. for improving whistleblower protections in the Department of Commerce. NWC has already collected over 100,000 signatures on various petitions calling Secretary Ross to implement whistleblower reward laws in the DOC.

View the petitions here:

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