Taiwanese-flagged fishing vessel seized by Coast Guard for alleged fisheries violations

SAIPAN, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands — A Taiwanese-flagged fishing vessel was seized and escorted into port here this past weekend by the crew of a U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat for suspected fisheries violations within the boundaries of the U.S. exclusive economic zone U.S. EEZ.

The crew of the 22-meter, 56-ton Te Hung Fa is alleged to have been illegally fishing for sharks, tuna and other types of fish with its long line gear deployed well within the U.S. EEZ surrounding the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, approximately 400 miles north-northwest of Guam. U.S. Coast Guard Sector Guam is responsible for monitoring and enforcing applicable laws in the U.S. EEZ around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

The Te Hung Fa was met by officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NOAA Office of Law Enforcement for investigation into alleged violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Conservation and Management Act.

“Our maritime domain awareness command center ‘watch’ spotted what looked to be behavior consistent with long line fishing activity in U.S.waters,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jay Caputo, fisheries enforcement officer with the 14th Coast Guard District in Honolulu.

“We informed NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and NOAA General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation of the situation and worked together to determine the best course of action. Ultimately, it was decided that the crew of our patrol boat would seize the vessel and escort it to Saipan.”

The crew of a long-range C-130 aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point in Honolulu documented the alleged violations at a position 34 nautical miles within the U.S. EEZ on Aug. 26. The crew of the 110-foot Coast Guard Cutter Washington based at Sector Guam arrived on scene in time to intercept the fishing vessel 17 nautical miles within the U.S. EEZ on Aug. 27.

“Essentially, the fishing vessel is alleged to have stayed within the U.S. EEZ for some time – long enough for us to document from the air and to have a surface boarding team on scene in time to make the seizure,” Caputo said.

The fishing vessel crew appeared to be heading west to exit the U.S. EEZ after the initial over flight of the C-130 air crew, said Caputo. He added that the crew of the CGC Washington arrived on scene before the Te Hung Fa could exit the U.S. EEZ and contacted the fishing vessel on VHF marine band channel 16 in both English and Chinese while the C-130 air crew monitored the situation from above. At that point, the Te Hung Fa was 17 nautical miles within the U.S. EEZ.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement will conduct a full investigation, gather evidence, including that captured by the Coast Guard and work with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Guamand NOAA’s Office of General Counsel to pursue a case against the owners of the Te Hung Fa. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act authorized the imposition of civil penalties up to $140,000 per violation and full forfeiture of the vessel and its catch. In a similar case of a 2006 violation of the U.S. EEZ of Howland and Baker Islands, a Marshalls Island-flagged fishing vessel owner paid a fine of $500,000 US in U.S. federal court in Guam in June.

“The Coast Guard prides itself on its fisheries conversation mission,” Caputo said. “Enforcement in the waters around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islandsas well as other U.S. Pacific Remote Island Areas is essential to the management and sustainability of fish and other ocean resources throughout the Pacific. This is an inter-agency success for the protection of fisheries resources in the region.”

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