Coast Guard interdicts illegal foreign fishers in Pacific

Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point C-130 Hercules aircraft file photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point C-130 Hercules aircraft file photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Tara Molle

HONOLULU — The Coast Guard interdicted several foreign fishing vessels fishing inside the US exclusive economic zone on two separate occasions incidents in the first two months of 2020.

“While we’ve seen incursions into the EEZs of partners and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on the high seas, these are the first interdictions we’ve had in the US EEZ since 2012,” said Lt. Jason Holstead, of Coast Guard 14th District Response Enforcement. “The combination of partnerships, electronic methods, and putting assets on the scene to catch violators in the act is essential to deterring IUU fishing in Oceania.”

In both cases, the Coast Guard was conducting maritime domain awareness flights in the zones off Guam and Hawaii with HC-130 Hercules aircraft crews based at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point.

Case packages were forwarded to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement for further actions. The investigations are pending.

The living marine resources mission is one of two Coast Guard missions devoted to protecting fisheries inside and outside US waters. While LMR focuses on domestic fisheries, other law enforcement focuses on illegal incursions by foreign fishing vessels into the US EEZ. An EEZ is defined as the region extending 200 miles beyond a nation’s shores. The Coast Guard leverages partnerships and 13 bilateral agreements between the US and other nations in the Pacific to enforce fisheries regulations and combat IUU fishing.

Fishing within the United States generates more than $200 billion and employs 1.7 million people annually. IUU fishing represents an estimated monetary loss of $10 billion to $23 billion for legitimate fishers. Narrow that to focus on Tuna. Globally, commercially landed tuna and tuna products have a value of $10 billion to $12 billion per year to the fishermen who target these species and more than $42 billion per year at the final point of sale. These conservative totals do not account for noncommercial tuna activity including sport fishing and tourism.

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pacific Ocean, also known as the “tuna belt”, represents 65 to 70 percent of globally harvested tuna. According to the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the international body that manages tuna fishing in the same waters, state fishers caught nearly 2.85 million metric tons of the primary commercial tuna species in 2014. This catch’s worth was valued at more than $5 billion to fishers in the region and more than $22.68 billion at the final point of sale. Tuna caught in the WCPFC Convention Area accounts for more than half of the landings, dock value, and end value of all commercial tuna fisheries.

While the Coast Guard is not the only agency responsible for protecting fisheries, it plays a significant role. The Coast Guard has enforcement authority over 202 separate commercial fisheries.

“While regulation compliance among US fishers is near 97 percent, some of the lowest policed areas, such as the waters in the Western and Central Pacific, are responsible for the highest percentage of significant violations. This is where the efforts of the Coast Guard 14th District and partners are so important,” said Holstead. “In 2019, we conducted numerous routine and analysis-based patrols throughout the region in support of IUU fishing detection and deterrence.”

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