BOSTON — The nation’s top fishery managers and commercial and small fishing operators met today to discuss the troubled fishery law enforcement system amid recent findings of mismanagement, misspending, and disproportionate fines.

The summit at a Washington hotel, broadcast on the Internet, followed months of revelations about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s law enforcement division that has ruptured relations with fishermen and prompted lawmakers to call for the resignation of NOAA head Jane Lubchenco.

Recent findings by U.S. Commerce Department Inspector General Todd Zinser described the misspending of millions of dollars in fishing fines and the appearance of excessive fines levied against Northeast fishermen, who have long complained of unfair treatment. Zinser also said the head of the law enforcement division, Dale Jones, wrongly ordered dozens of files shredded during his investigation.

Jones has since been replaced and NOAA has made various changes to better track fines and mend relations with the industry.

“We know we must earn the confidence of the public,” Lubchenco said in opening remarks. “We seek to be good partners, accessible and open, as well as tough, but only when necessary.”

Vincent O’Shea, head of Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission, said with only 168 agents to enforce the law in an area 1.5 times the size of the continental U.S., both law enforcement and the fishing industry must cooperate with each other.

Fair and vigorous enforcement is key to protecting the fish and fishing communities, even if some bristle under it, said Cameron Kerry, general counsel for the Commerce Department, which includes NOAA.

“We can’t make everyone happy,” Kerry said. “A law without enforcement is just an aspiration.”

Maggie Raymond, co-owner of two fishing boats and head of The Associated Fisheries of Maine, displayed a multicolored jigsaw puzzle of a map with various shapes and colors, showing the areas and regulations affecting fishermen. Raymond said law enforcement must understand that complexity, and she urged officials who spot consistent violations to educate fishermen first before punishing them.

“I would suggest that signals confusion and not intent,” Raymond said. “Some outreach on the docks may be a way to get people into compliance quickly.”

NOAA is charged with enforcing the nation’s fisheries laws, aimed at protecting species through such measures as closing fishing grounds when necessary or mandating gear that allows smaller fish to escape.

Lubchenco ordered Zinser’s investigation last year after fishermen complained that they were being assessed five- and six-figure fines for minor violations by investigators who viewed them as criminals. Fishermen also claimed the fines amounted to a sort of bounty since NOAA kept the money.

In January, Zinser’s office released a report that said Northeast fishermen have been fined more than double the amount levied against fishermen in other regions. The report urged NOAA to take steps to ensure penalties were not meted out arbitrarily. It also criticized the disproportionate number of criminal investigators in an agency where most violations are civil in nature.

In addition, findings from an audit conducted by Zinser’s office and released last month showed that money collected from fines was badly mismanaged and was misspent on items such as cars for managers and a $300,000 luxury boat for undercover work. NOAA’s comptroller now has control of revenue from the fines, and any expenditure over $1,000 must have the comptroller’s approval.

In calling for Lubchenco to step down, congressmen including Reps. John Tierney of Massachusetts and Walter Jones of North Carolina cited problems with NOAA’s law enforcement office in describing what they said were the agency’s broader troubles with fishermen.