China, U.S. and Japan Cooperate Against High-Seas Drift Nets

NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN- The United States Coast Guard, the People’s Republic of China Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC), and Japanese Coast Guard are investigating a fishing vessel suspected of illegal high-seas drift net fishing five hundred miles east of Hokkaido, Japan.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell with a Chinese fisheries enforcement officer on board intercepted the 120-foot fishing vessel Lu Rong Yu 6007 Thursday, after a Japanese maritime patrol aircraft identified it as a possible high-seas drift net vessel. The Lu Rong Yu 6007 had attempted to disguise its name and flew no flag, but the Chinese agent aboard Boutwell noted it bore characteristics of a Chinese fishing boat including the listing of a Chinese homeport on its stern. A joint China/U.S. boarding team was dispatched from Cutter Boutwell to the fishing vessel to investigate further. Lu Rong Yu 6007 refused to answer hails from the Boutwell and attempted evasive maneuvers to frustrate the boarding, going so far as to drag nets in front of the boarding team’s boat to attempt to foul their propeller. Boutwell launched a second small boat and the joint China/U.S. team boarded the vessel safely.

After intercepting and boarding the Lu Rong Yu 6007 and questioning its crew of 29, the Chinese officer confirmed from the vessel’s documentation that it was registered in the People’s Republic of China. With the assistance of U.S. Coast Guard personnel from the Boutwell, the Chinese officer verified that the vessel was rigged for large scale high-seas drift net fishing and the cargo hold was full of various species of fish including shark and swordfish. The crew of Boutwell also spotted an additional 3,000 yards of nearby drift nets in the water which the Lu Rong Yu 6007 master said was not his.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter will escort Lu Rong Yu 6007 until the fishing boat can be transferred to the custody of a Chinese fisheries enforcement cutter on its way to the area now.

“This case clearly highlights the international cooperation necessary to be effective in enforcing the United Nations recommended global moratorium on large scale high seas drift net fishing and combating the plaque of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing on the High Seas. Aerial surveillance coupled with surface interdiction assets and cooperative agreements with our international law enforcement partners made this case possible. The abandoned 3,000 yards of drift net represents a long term threat to living marine resources as it indiscriminately continues to kill as it drifts like a ghost in the ocean. I’m proud to be working with our Chinese and other North Pacific fisheries enforcement counterparts to remove this hazard from the sea,” said Capt. Michael A. Neussl, acting 17th Coast Guard District Commander.

China Fisheries Law Enforcement Command Division Director Cui Haiyan added that the case is a successful example of Sino-U.S. cooperation.

A drift net is a fishing net that has the ability to indiscriminately catch massive amounts of fish and other marine life by means of suspension in open water. The U.S. Coast Guard participates in international cooperative efforts against high seas drift-net fishermen as encouraged by the United Nations. The term IUU Fishing describes a wide range of destructive fishing activities which includes use of large scale high seas drift-nets. Many maritime nations, including the United States, have undertaken to monitor and deter IUU fishing, and protect shared living marine resources and their environments. IUU Fishing is considered to be one of the main obstacles to sustainable world fisheries and healthy oceans ecosystems.

The United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, and Korea are part of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Convention (NPAFC) which meets annually to discuss issues related to marine science and high seas fisheries enforcement. Enforcement meetings under the NPAFC achieve coordinated enforcement efforts between the nations. For instance, Canadian aircraft routinely stage out of U.S. air bases in support of NPAFC enforcement missions. North Pacific IUU Fishing efforts targeting anadromous species like salmon have historically utilized large scale high-seas driftnets as their method of capture. Multilateral high seas enforcement cooperation between NPAFC countries together with additional coordinated enforcement with China for the past several years has resulted in a dramatic decrease in suspected large scale high seas drift-net activity in the North Pacific.

This week, civil maritime leaders from each of these countries met in Saint Petersburg, Russia to plan next years’ activities as part of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum.

The U.S. Coast Guard partners closely with Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – National Marine Fisheries Service as well as the Department of State to achieve U.S. goals and objectives for living marine resource conservation. As the only agency with the infrastructure and authority to project law enforcement presence throughout the 3.36 million square mile U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and in key areas of the high seas, the Coast Guard is the lead U.S. agency for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws. This case reflects the value of having a multi-mission maritime service adequately equipped to protect critical marine resources.

The Boutwell is a 378-foot high endurance cutter based out of Alameda, Calif.

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