Coast Guard uncovers 450 shark fins during fisheries boardings

A U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf boarding team member holds a shark fin while aboard a foreign vessel, Sept. 23, 2021. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission regulates the process of shark finning through Conservation and Management Measures. These measures require fully utilizing retained catches of sharks and limits on amounts of fins onboard in relation to those sharks. - U.S. Coast Guard photo

A U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf boarding team member holds a shark fin while aboard a foreign vessel, Sept. 23, 2021.  U.S. Coast Guard photo

JUNEAU, Alaska – An integrated international law enforcement boarding team inspecting fishing vessels in the North Pacific Ocean identified 32 potential violations of conservation and management measures under the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) and North Pacific Fisheries Commission (NPFC). This team was developed to support international cooperation for the United States Coast Guard’s annual Northern Pacific Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing patrol, Operation North Pacific Guard.

Operation North Pacific Guard is an annual multi-mission effort between the Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, five Pacific Rim countries and three regional fisheries management organizations to include the WCPFC, NPFC, and the North Pacific Anadromous Fishing Commission. Each nation provides surface and air patrols and shares intelligence that guides patrol assets to detect and intercept the most likely illicit fishing activity.

This team of international inspectors includes fisheries enforcement officers from Canada, the Republic of Korea, and the United States Coast Guard. Each of these countries are members of both the WCPFC and NPFC.

Operation North Pacific Guard is a coordinated effort with cooperating Pacific Rim nations working to counter illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Since the beginning of September, this team of partners, operating aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, boarded 15 fishing vessels registered to fish within the WCPFC and NPFC convention areas.

Among those 15 vessels, boarding teams identified 32 potential violations of WCPFC and NPFC conservation and management measures, including the use of prohibited gear, failure to maintain records of catch, and improper vessel markings. Sixteen of these violations are considered serious violations under the provisions of WCPFC and NPFC. Three vessels with a combined total of 450 shark fins onboard were among a fleet of vessels operating together. Other vessels within this fleet refused to allow the boarding team aboard, which also constitutes a serious violation under WCPFC and NPFC.

All violations uncovered during Operation North Pacific Guard become the responsibility of the vessels’ respective flag states to investigate and hold crews accountable, as appropriate.

“These boardings are in support of a multinational coordinated effort to stop illegal fishing in international waters,” said Rear Adm. Nathan Moore, commander, U.S. Coast Guard 17th District. “Failing to comply with authorized boardings unnecessarily escalates the situation at sea. I look forward to seeing how the responsible flag states uphold the agreed upon governance structure and hold their vessels accountable for these serious violations.”

Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a leading global maritime security threat, and as such requires a coordinated global maritime response to confront predatory and irresponsible actions in international fisheries.

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