Massachusetts-based Challenge Fisheries and Quinn Fisheries agreed to pay $414,000 in civil penalties and perform fleet-wide improvements to resolve charges of violating the Clean Water Act stemming from fuel oil discharges in New Bedford Harbor and coastal waters off of southeastern New England. See DOJ Press Release.
According to the government, the company was responsible for discharges of oily bilge waste from one of its vessels while in port and at sea harvesting scallops. The government further alleged the release of approximately 100 barrels (4,200 gallons) of fuel oil in connection with the illegal overboard pumping of oily bilge water. The government claimed this conduct violated the Clean Water Act and the Coast Guard’s spill prevention and pollution control regulation related to the failure to provide sufficient capacity to retain all oily bilge water onboard the vessel.
In announcing the action, the government was clear in its commitment to enforce the Clean Water Act and to keep our waters safe from oil discharges:
Today’s action sends a clear message to the commercial fishing fleet that Clean Water Act compliance must be a non-negotiable part of operations. . . . Discharges of fuel and oily bilge wastes into our nation’s waters have long been prohibited and will not be condoned. . . . This enforcement action will help protect people and the environment in and around New Bedford Harbor from the effects of oil pollution, and other fishing vessel owners and operators should take note.
While it does not appear a whistleblower was involved in bringing this misconduct to light, the government has a very active whistleblower program relating to the reporting of pollution in our nation’s waterways. The Act to Prevent Pollution from Ships was designed to ensure large ship vessels comply with all applicable environmental laws, and generally bars them from discharging into U.S. waters untreated sewage, graywater, and other harmful substances. The statute has a whistleblower rewards provision that authorizes the government to “pay from any fines or civil penalties collected under this section an amount not to exceed one-half of the penalty or fine collected, to any individual who furnishes information which leads to the payment of the penalty or fine.” Numerous whistleblowers have received awards under this provision for reporting violations of the statute.
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