Fishing vessel owner pays $500,000 fine for illegally fishing in remote central Pacific Territory

HAGATNA, Guam — Earlier this month, the owner of a foreign-flagged fishing vessel paid a $500,000 fine for fishing illegally within U.S. waters of a remote central Pacific territory, settling a nearly three-year-old case that involved a chase on the high seas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Office of Law Enforcement, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Guam, made the announcement jointly here last week.

The owner of the Marshalls 201, a Republic of the Marshall Islands-flagged “purse seine” fishing vessel, has agreed to pay the penalty for violating the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for fishing illegally in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the United States adjacent to Howland and Baker Islands.

The case began Sept. 9, 2006, when the Coast Guard and NOAA conducted a joint fisheries patrol of the remote EEZ adjacent to the U.S. National Wildlife Refuges at Howland and Baker.

A Coast Guard air crew aboard a C-130 long-range search plane based at Air Station Barbers Point in Honolulu, sighted the crew of the Marshalls 201 with the vessel’s fishing gear in the water approximately two miles inside the EEZ.

The air crew immediately contacted the crew of the Honolulu-based 225-foot Coast Guard buoy tender Walnut, which changed course and intercepted the Marshalls 201 with the intent to board the fishing vessel at sea.

After a chase at sea for more than four hours, the master of the Marshalls 201 finally ‘heaved to’ or slowed down enough for the buoy tender to come alongside. Walnut’s crew boarded the Marshalls 201 and confirmed that it had been fishing illegally in a U.S. EEZ.

The boarding team and the Walnut ultimately escorted it more than 1,200 miles to Guam to face federal court proceedings. It was later determined the Marshalls 201 caught, on that one day, 110 metric tons of tuna while fishing illegally in the U.S. EEZ.

On Oct. 4, 2006, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Guam filed a forfeiture complaint against the Marshalls 201 based on two violations of the Magnuson Act.

Under a consent decree, the vessel owner paid the $500,000 fine based on one violation of the Magnuson Act. In addition, the vessel owner, in cooperation with the flag state – or country in which it’s registered, the Republic of the Marshall Islands – will allow U.S. authorities to monitor the activities of the vessel through a vessel monitoring system (VMS) for the next three years.

The vessel owner also agreed to participate in NOAA’s “Global Drifter Program” by deploying drifter data buoys in remote areas of the Central Pacific Ocean on each of its fishing trips for the next five years.

Because this vessel operates in remote areas of the Pacific Ocean, its participation in the Global Drifter Program will greatly increase data from that area used in mapping surface currents, sea surface temperature, and other data critical to climate forecasting and drift modeling, including models used in search and rescue operations. This is the first time participation in the Global Drifter Program has been used as a term for settlement in a NOAA enforcement action.

“Enforcement in the remote waters of the U.S. Pacific islands is essential to the management and sustainability of fish and other ocean resources throughout the Pacific,” said Leonardo M. Rapada, United States Attorney for the Districts of Guam & the NMI.

Howland and Baker Islands are uninhabited coral atolls located just north of the equator approximately 1,700 miles (or 3,100 kilometres) southwest of Honolulu. The islands lie almost halfway between Hawaii and Australia in an unincorporated, unorganized territory of the U.S.

Geographically, the islands are part of the Phoenix Islands and are grouped together with Johnston Atoll, Palmyra Reef, Wake Island, Midway Island and Jarvis Island as the U.S. Minor Outlying Islands.

“This enforcement action and subsequent prosecution of the Marshalls 201 exemplifies the level of cooperation between NOAA’s Office for Law Enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard as both agencies work together to protect the fishery resources of the United States in the vast and remote Pacific Region,” said Bill Pickering, Special Agent-in-Charge of the NOAA Office for Law Enforcement, Pacific Islands Region.

NOAA, an agency of the U.S. Commerce Department, is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

Through the emerging Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS), NOAA is working with its federal partners, more than 70 countries, and the European Commission to develop a global monitoring network that is as integrated as the planet it observes, predicts and protects.

If you have any problems viewing this article, please report it here.