Operation North Pacific Guard
Posted by PA2 Grant DeVuyst, Friday, June 6, 2014
Churning beneath the tumultuous surface of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska is the life-blood of a multi-billion-dollar industry. The scaly, slimy and sometimes spiny natural resource plays a major part in feeding people all over the world, and provides a way of life for an enormous commercial fishing fleet in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
According to a report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, the industry provided a total of 165,800 jobs and accounted for over half of all fisheries production in the United States in 2011. But statistics only hint at the work that goes into catching fish from the cold water. Through mild summers and brutal winters, crews of the Last Frontier’s fishing fleet risk life and limb to earn a living and feed a multitude of seafood lovers around the world.
The key to the successful continuation of this critical fishery can be summed up in one word: sustainability. Unfortunately, there’s a threat to this continuation.
“Large-scale high seas drifnet fishing is an extremely destructive fishing practice and a form of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing that indiscriminately kills massive amounts of all types of marine life, from targeted species such as salmon, tuna and squid, to bycatch of whales, seabirds sharks and turtles,” said Cmdr. Chris Barrows, deputy chief of the Coast Guard 17th District enforcement division. “This practice is a scourge on the world’s oceans and the organization and fishermen that continue to practice it are a significant threat to healthy ocean ecosystems and to the sustainable food security and economic security of nations and fishing communities that rely on living marine resources.”These nets create a yawning gate of death, a scourge on all marine life that encounters them. They stretch on, often for miles, indiscriminately plucking life from the water: whales, turtles, birds and fish.
To combat the at-sea treachery, the Coast Guard 17th District* enlisted not only some of the Coast Guard’s finest long-range assets, but also the help of some key international partners. The wanton slaughter of marine resources affects any country with a robust maritime economy. When the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau left their homeport of Honolulu in April, they did so with a team from China coast guard’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command. The Morgenthau crew was headed out to take part in Operation North Pacific Guard. Their travels would bring them to Japan and an area of the western North Pacific Ocean frequented by legitimate fishing fleets, many from Asian ports.
Patrolling a body of water as large as the North Pacific isn’t a job for a single asset, especially with such high stakes. To aid in the search for IUU fishing vessels, the Coast Guard also sent an Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules aircraft to Yokota Air Base in Japan. In what was one of many examples of international cooperation, the U.S. Coast Guard rotated the air observer duty with Canada. It was a Canadian CP-140 aircraft, with Japanese spotters aboard, which first sighted the fishing vessel Yin Yuan on May 22, 2014. All the evidence was there: net tube, net spreader, net bin, nets and net buoys on deck.
Personnel with the 17th District jumped into action, contacting the Morgenthau crew and giving them the location of the suspicious vessel. A few days later the Morgenthau crew saw the rusting vessel appear over the horizon.
“This case is a superb example of international cooperation to prevent illegal and unregulated fishing in the North Pacific outside the exclusive economic zone of any nation,” said Capt. Richard Mourey, commander, Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau. “The China coast guard riders aboard Morgenthau contacted their headquarters in Beijing and arranged a rendezvous to transfer the vessel to the China coast guard.”
One less illegal fishing crew is wastefully depleting marine resources, but the mission isn’t over. The Coast Guard and our international partners will continue the North Pacific Guard mission, keeping jobs safe for Alaska’s fishermen and ensuring the bounty of the sea will still be available for generations to come.