U.S. Coast Guard, Canada partner to curb illegal fishing in the Pacific Ocean
October 17, 2012
Coast Guard cutters and Canadian aircraft patrolled the international waters off Japan in an effort to locate vessels engaged in large-scale high seas drift net fishing. This practices employs the use of miles upon miles of net constructed of mono-filament line that indiscriminately catch all sea life in their path including whales, dolphins, sea turtles and seabirds. The fishermen are known to target high value species such as sharks, tuna and salmon.
Due to the fact this type of fishing is so destructive it has been condemned by many nations worldwide. In response to these concerns the UN General Assembly in 1992 passed Resolution 46/125 creating an international moratorium on high seas drift net fishing.
The governments of the U.S., Canada, Russia and Japan signed the Convention for the Conservation of Anadromous Stocks in the North Pacific Ocean around the same time. The Republic of Korea joined the commission that implements this convention in 2003. The commission is called the North Pacific Anadromous Fisheries Commission. The convention prohibits directed fishing for anadromous fish (salmon) and the retention on board fishing vessels of salmon taken incidentally while directed fishing for other marine species. These prohibitions apply to all fishing methods, but large-scale drift net fishing is the most historical, prevalent and destructive method of fishing on the high seas in contravention of the NPAFC convention. The Coast Guard and the Department of Fisheries and Oceans patrols are conducted under the authority of the convention.
“Fish stocks are protected under the convention include salmon, a very important species here in Alaska and the West Coast economically,” said Cmdr. Chris Barrows, deputy chief of enforcement, Coast Guard 17th District. “The salmon that originate in the streams on the West Coast and in Alaska feed on the high seas for much of their life cycle so that is why it is important to make sure that enough of that stock can return to their native streams to spawn and populate the species in the future.”
According to a recent fisheries report released in August by the Department of Commerce, National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration and the National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. commercial landings of salmon were 780.1 million pounds valued at over $618.3 million in 2011 and Alaska accounted for almost 95 precent of total landings. Alaska landings were 738.1 million pounds valued at nearly $564.8 million.
For Operation Drift Net the Canadian aircraft staged out of Hakodate, Japan, while the Coast Guard Cutter Rush patrolled the seas. The Coast Guard’s high endurance and national security cutters can operate at sea for weeks at a time before returning to port. The CP-140 Aurora long range patrol aircraft is capable of flying for 14 hours and travelling more than 5,592 miles (9,000 kilometers) before refueling, making it one of the few aircraft in the world capable of effectively searching a vast expanse such as the area being patrolled during Operation Drift Net.
“The Aurora is ideally suited to the detection of IUU/HSDN vessels,” said Todd Parker of the DFO. “However, the U.S. Coast Guard, with its cutters on station provide the ability to board, verify illegal activity and interdict and seize vessels as required. The use of detection sensors aboard the Aurora and the ability of the cutter boarding teams to verify and apprehend makes for a formidable team.”
According to Barrows the Coast Guard has been an active member in efforts to detect and deter high seas drift net fishing in the North Pacific along with Canadian partners, Japanese, Russian and the Republic of Korea enforcement agencies for more than 10 years.
“Recently we’ve had a couple of Japanese enforcement flights doing the same types of surveillance operations the Canadians are helping us do looking for high seas drift net activity,” said Barrows.
One such Fisheries Agency of Japan flight, conducted in September 2011, spotted and reported the activities of the 140-foot Bangun Perkasa operating off the coast of Japan 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska. The vessel, with a crew of 22, was then intercepted by the Coast Guard Cutter Munro. A boarding team from Munro confirmed the vessel’s crew has been fishing illegally with more than 10 miles of large-scale drift net and had a catch of 30 tons of squid and 30 shark carcasses aboard. The vessel claimed to be flagged out of Indonesia but was eventually determined to be stateless, or without nationality, and was brought to the United States where the vessel, crew and the catch were turned over to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement for prosecution.
“Without partnerships we would not be effective in terms of altering behavior against this threat,” said Barrows. “The reason is because the North Pacific Ocean is larger than any one country. There is no possible way we can cover the vast expanse and distances involved in the high seas and the North Pacific Ocean without the cooperation of our partner nations who have the same level of concern for these high seas drift net activities.”
The United States is also a participant in the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, a multilateral group which also targets high seas drift net fishermen, and includes 24 member countries and nine territories worldwide. The WCPFC focuses largely on highly migratory fish stocks in the Pacific such as tuna.
Under WCPFC jurisdiction the Coast Guard in partnership with the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command interdicted the 177-foot fishing vessel Da Cheng 850 miles east of Tokyo, Japan in August. The Coast Guard Cutter Rush’s boarding team confirmed the vessel was fishing illegally with large-scale drift nets and targeting albacore tuna. The vessel had a catch aboard of more than 30 metric tons of tuna and six metric tons of shark bodies and fins. The vessel, crew and catch were turned over to the Chinese FLEC for further investigation and possible prosecution.
“This joint operation has been responsible for the apprehension of several violators and over the years has had a significant role in deterring illegal high seas fishing,” said Parker. “Violations have resulted in fines, seizure of boats and prison sentences for ship’s crew members. The effectiveness of this multinational enforcement approach makes it a model for other operations to protect natural resources elsewhere in the world.”
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