HONOLULU — The Coast Guard Cutter Sequoia crew returned home to Guam Sept. 22, after a near month-long patrol of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean to deter illegal fishing of highly migratory fish stocks such as tuna and build relationships with Pacific island nations.
“Sequoia patrolled more than 3,970 miles over 25 days and conducted 14 at-sea boardings,” said Lt. j.g. Charlie Totten, operations officer aboard Sequoia. “The boardings resulted in the reporting of 11 potential Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Convention violations to the applicable flag states for further investigation and enforcement.”
Also, of note Sequoia’s crew discovered and recovered an abandoned 33-foot 3.2 ton bamboo and wood vessel determined to be an illegal fish aggregating device. It posed a navigational hazard and the use of fish aggregating devices is an illegal fishing practice in Palau waters.
The Western and Central Pacific Ocean is home to the “tuna belt” and supplies about 60 percent of the global tuna supply, worth an estimated $7 billion a year. With more than 5,600 fishing vessels registered with the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission, there are serious concerns about the sustainability of straddling fish stocks. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing presents a significant threat to the multi-national fishing fleets that operate in the region.
During each fisheries patrol, the U.S. Coast Guard is protecting the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone from foreign fishing vessel encroachment, enforcing domestic living marine resources laws, and ensuring compliance with international agreements. One of these international arrangements is the WCPFC, comprised of 40 member nations, territories, and cooperating non-members that regulate fishing for highly migratory species on the high seas of the Western and Central Pacific Ocean. Within these partnerships, the Coast Guard works closely to ensure all fishing fleets are complying with the provisions of the agreement.
Sequoia is one of the vessels authorized to carry out boardings and inspections of foreign fishing vessels on the high seas under the WCPFC convention. Sequoia’s crew embarked an Australian Fisheries Management Authority shiprider for a portion of this deployment who was an asset in assessing potential WCPFC violations and also speaks Indonesian, able to converse with many of the fishing vessel crews. In addition to WCPFC, the Coast Guard executes bilateral agreements with nine Pacific island nations. These agreements, commonly known as shiprider agreements, allow enforcement authorities from host nations to embark a Coast Guard or U.S. Navy platform to enforce the host nations’ fisheries laws inside their EEZ. This allows for capacity building, training, joint operations and the safeguarding of highly migratory fish stocks in the region.
Sequoia’s crew embarked a Palauan shiprider for a portion of this deployment. Marine Forces Pacific, 3rd Radio Battalion, also provided a linguist who speaks Mandarin Chinese to facilitate more effective communication with the fishing vessel masters.
“Our primary mission was the preservation of living marine resources, including highly migratory fish stocks, through enforcement of international agreements and our partnerships with Australia and Palau,” said Lt. Cmdr. William Adams, commanding officer of the Sequoia. “Fisheries are a huge economic driver in the Pacific and influence the stability of the region. Preservation of the resources and the reef are especially important to Palau. Our exchange allowed us to share best practices with both nations for locating and identifying these fishing vessels and any illegal fishing practices while providing a platform to enforcement the WCPFC regulations and the laws of Palau in their respective waters.”
Fish stocks are a renewable resource if managed correctly and not overfished. More importantly, fish stocks are a global food source and provide economic stability for many countries. In the U.S. alone, the fishing industry employs 1.3 million people and contributes $199 billion per year to the U.S. economy, according to NOAA’s 2012 Economic Report. Many Pacific island nations rely on the fishing industry for revenue and sustenance. Depleted fish stocks could contribute to the destabilization of the region and leave small nations vulnerable to dangerous transnational organized crime networks.
The Sequoia’s crew also sought out volunteer opportunities while deployed. They conducted a high school visit with several hundred students in Koror, Palau, where Coast Guard missions and navigation, damage control and seamanship skills were showcased. A number of the crew attended the Palau Community College observance of Sept. 11, alongside local and embassy officials. A diverse team from Sequoia spent the day with the Civic Action Team at Camp Katuu in Airai, Palau, assisting with facility improvements and equipment maintenance at the joint military installation. Sequoia also transported 21,800 pounds of construction supplies and parts for the CAT significantly reducing logistics costs and shipping time. All of these efforts further the Compact of Free Association between the U.S. and Palau.