Some fishing fines returned after investigation

By JAY LINDSAY | May 17, 2011 | 2:14 PM EDT

BOSTON (AP) — The U.S. Commerce Secretary has ordered tens of thousands of dollars in fines returned to fishermen after a special investigator determined the penalties were excessive or unjust.

Secretary Gary Locke appointed the investigator last year after a report by his department's inspector general flagged several questionable penalties against Northeast fishermen.

For years, fishermen from that region have complained of abusive treatment and excessive fines by the officers and attorneys charged with enforcing the nation's fishery laws.

Investigator Charles Swartwood ended up reviewing 30 cases, and Locke is returning the penalties, or portions of penalties, in 11 cases, based on Swartwood's recommendations. The amounts to be returned were as high as $330,000.

Locke said in a memo Tuesday that by returning penalties, he was emphasizing that fishery enforcement exists to serve fishermen.