Coast Guard, Cook Islands Ministry of Fisheries seize shark fins

HONOLULU — U.S. Coast Guard boarding team members seized 15 pounds of shark fins aboard a fishing vessel in the Cook Islands Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Thursday at approximately 5 p.m.

A Cook Islands Ministry of Fisheries law enforcement officer and a boarding team from the Coast Guard Cutter Walnut, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported here, conducted a fishing vessel inspection Thursday approximately 2,200 miles south of Hawaii in accordance with the new bilateral law enforcement agreement with the Cook Islands. The boarding team found shark fins aboard the 71-foot fishing vessel Pacific Horizon, homeported in San Diego, Calif.

It is a violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1996 to have shark fins aboard any U.S. vessel. The seized fins are aboard the Walnut as evidence and will be transferred to National Marine Fisheries Service specialists who will determine if a formal Notice of Violation (NOVA) will be issued.

The Walnut boarding team inspected the fishing vessel and found no other violations, and the Pacific Horizon was allowed to continue its fishing trip.

“The boarding was a unique opportunity because the Coast Guard does not normally have the authority to board vessels in other countries’ EEZs. Now that we have the shiprider agreement, it is now possible to conduct these joint boardings,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jay Caputo, chief of living marine resources at the Fourteenth Coast Guard District.

Carolyn Ridderman, the district’s international affairs officer, said the shiprider agreement will facilitate more at-sea boardings, which will aid the Coast Guard’s mission to protect living marine resources.

U.S. and Cook Islands government officials signed the law enforcement agreement in July 2008. Its main purpose is to detect illegal activity at sea, such as fisheries offenses, illicit maritime drug traffic and illegal migration. It is based on the principles of international law, respect for the sovereign equality of states, and in full respect of the freedom of navigation, according to the agreement.

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