Honolulu-based fishing vessel ordered to return to port

HONOLULU — The crew of a Honolulu-based fishing vessel returned to port Saturday, June 20, after its voyage was cut short by law enforcement personnel with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Coast Guard because of allegations of illegal fishing in protected waters of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

An air crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard C-130 long-range search plane from Air Station Barbers Point twice documented the U.S.-flagged vessel fishing in a “special preservation area” inside the Monument on Monday, June 15.

The air crew spotted the bottom fish vessel at midday and shot video and still photos that show the fishing vessel crew hauling its lines out of the water and abruptly getting underway. The air crew then flew over the horizon out of sight and returned to find the fishing vessel crew had put its lines back in the water and allegedly had resumed fishing.

After it was informed by the Coast Guard of the vessel’s activities, NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement coordinated with the air crew to immediately end the fishing trip and directed the vessel back to Honolulu for boarding and further investigation.

The air crew communicated the order with the master of the fishing vessel via VHF marine band radio. The fishing vessel crew arrived in Honolulu Saturday morning after a five-day transit.

The monument falls within the 14th Coast Guard District’s area of responsibility and is one of the most remote areas of the world. There are approximately 60 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) personnel and contractors at Midway and a handful of State of Hawaii and USFWS scientists on other small islands, but the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands are mostly uninhabited.

Crews aboard Coast Guard cutters and aircraft conduct routine enforcement and surveillance patrols of the monument while working closely with partner agencies in order to enforce monument regulations and laws.

The Coast Guard is the primary agency responsible for at-sea enforcement of Federal fisheries laws, but we work very closely with our federal and state partners in order to be successful,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jay Caputo, the 14th Coast Guard District’s fisheries enforcement officer.

The monument includes all waters within 50 miles of the islands, reefs and atolls of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

“Our partnerships with NOAA, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the State are paramount in our ability to enforce the laws in the remote waters of Papahanaumokuakea. It is very much a joint effort,” said Caputo.

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