The U.S Commerce Department will return nearly $650,000 in fines to fishermen and businesses following a independent report that was critical of the agency’s fisheries enforcement division.

Eleven entities will receive refunds, including independent fishermen from Massachusetts and the Gloucester Seafood Display Auction, according to a memo released today by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke. The Department of Commerce is the agency that oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the nation’s fisheries enforcement arm.

The memo follows an independent review that found NOAA’s law enforcement division “overstepped the bounds of propriety and fairness,” according to Locke.

He said the review found instances of “overly aggressive or unfair enforcement conduct” and cases where “the facts presented demonstrate a lack of supervision, oversight and standards in the work of NOAA law enforcement.

“Today we acknowledge and rectify past mistakes, apologize to the fishermen and businesses hurt by these mistakes, and rededicate ourselves to work with the fishing industry to sustain and grow fishing jobs,” said NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco in a statement.

In addition to the refunds, NOAA said it will take the following actions:

—  Work with fishery management councils nationwide to simplify and streamline regulations;
—  Work with all the regional fishery management councils to simplify fishery management regulations and provide routine training for the fishing industry and other stakeholders on regulatory compliance;
—  Require all enforcement personnel and enforcement attorneys to attend annual professional and ethics training to ensure they follow fair, effective and professional procedures;
—  Expand the compliance liaison program nationwide to assist fishermen at the waterfront better understand and have stronger incentives to comply with regulations;
—  Reinforce current strict guidelines to limit communications between NOAA staff and administrative law judges to ensure there is no conflict of interest, real or perceived; and
—  Finalize a workforce analysis to more appropriately balance the number of enforcement officers and special agents to more effectively communicate with the industry and match its enforcement needs.