Coast Guard heads out on annual North Pacific fisheries patrol

Multiple vessels were targeted with fines as a result of enforcement by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf during an annual fisheries patrol last year. The announcement comes as the Coast Guard’s annual fisheries patrol, North Pacific Guard, is about to start once again.

“Everyone eats on the planet. Everyone needs food. Everyone needs fish. It’s a problem for everyone,” said Lt. Collin McClelland, who works in the international section of the Coast Guard District 17 in Juneau, coordinating the patrols. “That is why it has become a priority for us: it is affecting national security and our national food safety.”

Four countries are participating in concert this year, McClelland said: Canada, Japan, South Korea and the U.S.

The U.S. may have the most visible contribution, deploying 418-foot cutters, like the Bertholf, and HC-130 Hercules aircraft, but other countries are heavily involved as well, McClelland said. Participating countries may provide crew for boarding teams, aircraft or conducting patrols at sea with their own vessels, McClelland said.

“It’s a collaborative effort between all of us.”

Patrols, both airborne and seaborne, will sail the North Pacific, surveilling for potential violations of fisheries agreements. “They’re cooperative organizations between Pacific Rim nations,” McClelland said. “I’d say they’re kind of akin to U.N. nations where they come together to agree on specific conservation and management measures.”

Upon identifying possible violations of the rules of the regional fishing management organization, the cutter may board the vessel, McClelland said. Violations can be as simple as obscured signage on a vessel, or catching the wrong kind of fish using the wrong kind of gear, McClelland said.

Staff of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries group accompany the patrols. Boarding teams will document the potential violation, and have the ship’s master sign off their acknowledgement in the presence of a translator before returning to the cutter, McClelland. From there, the package with the complete write-up of the violation is passed on to the potential violator’s flag nation.

“For the most part we leave it to the flag state to police their own. It’s a respect of sovereignty and all to encourage coordination as well,” McClelland said. “When you start to question a country’s sovereignty and how they enforce their fishing laws on their vessels, it could get hostile real quick.”

Eleven vessels refused to be boarded in 2021, according to a Coast Guard report. Those included 10 from the People’s Republic of China and one from Russia. This is itself a serious regulations violation, according to the report. Issues where vessels may not be compliant are handled at a higher level, McClelland said, generally between the foreign ministries of the nations.

“It is a very tactful approach to what we have to do. On one hand you don’t want to discourage countries, making them a pariah by making it super hard. On the other hand, there are mechanisms to hold them accountable,” McClelland said.

Nearly $250,000 in fines were imposed for multiple vessels and officers by the Fisheries Agency of Taiwan as a result of the Bertholf’s actions, according to a Coast Guard news release.

The Bertholf and its crew were deployed to the region in late summer of 2021, boarding 15 different vessels and identifying 32 potential regulations violations.

 

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