Coast Guard instructors ensure federal fisheries enforcement consistency in Alaska

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush, homeported in Honolulu, attend fisheries training in Kodiak, Alaska, March 5, 2013. While at the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center, Rush crewmembers learn about vessel inspections, safety of life at-seas gear and regulations, common fish types and other law enforcement aspects of at-sea fishing vessel boardings. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Members of the Coast Guard Cutter Rush, homeported in Honolulu, attend fisheries training in Kodiak, Alaska, March 5, 2013. While at the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center, Rush crewmembers learn about vessel inspections, safety of life at-seas gear and regulations, common fish types and other law enforcement aspects of at-sea fishing vessel boardings. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

In the middle of the Bering Sea, from the perspective of a 25-foot Coast Guard small boat, only two things can been seen in the vast ocean besides waves and birds: the Coast Guard cutter you launched from, and the fishing vessel you are headed to.

The step aboard the fishing vessel is a dangerous one. Body armor, dry suits and a utility belt full of gear encumber law enforcement officers as they conduct a boarding. They must time the swell correctly so they are not injured moving between the two ships.

The seasoned fishermen about the decks of the fishing vessel watch the visitors as they go about their work inspecting logs, the rigging, life rafts, emergency signals and the crew’s catch. The actions of the Coast Guard men and women and the fishermen are both integral to sustaining federal fisheries in Alaska.

In the United States, there are five Coast Guard fisheries schools placed strategically where the biggest commercial fisheries take place. However, the instructors at the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center in Kodiak, Alaska, go the extra mile to ensure Coast Guard boarding teams are educated and that the fishermen harvesting precious natural resources are playing fair and doing so safely.

Lt. J. G. Ryan Sherman, the assistant navigator aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, goes through ships records aboard the fishing vessel Pavlov during a fisheries boarding in the Bering Sea, Nov. 26, 2013. Fisheries boardingÕs are conducted to ensure the safe operations of the fishing fleet during peak fishing seasons. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

Lt. J. G. Ryan Sherman, the assistant navigator aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, goes through ships records aboard the fishing vessel Pavlov during a fisheries boarding in the Bering Sea, Nov. 26, 2013. Fisheries boardingÕs are conducted to ensure the safe operations of the fishing fleet during peak fishing seasons. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

“Alaska fisheries are a $2 billion dollar industry that is complicated and unique,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Daniel Gemme, a maritime enforcement specialist with the Coast Guard and instructor at the fisheries school. “The environment is complicated, there are many different types of fisheries, different licenses and programs that need to be monitored in such a large area that the law enforcement side of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service, really relies on the Coast Guard to step up and help them cover ground.”

Cutter crews stationed in Alaska and visiting crews from the West Coast support the Coast Guard 17th District fisheries enforcement mission and conduct Bering Sea law enforcement patrols. Prior to the patrol they are required to take a four-day, hands-on class at the Kodiak-based fisheries school, whether for the first time or as a refresher course. The course material includes fishery and gear regulations, species of the different Alaska fish, a dock walk to familiarize cutter crews from the Lower 48 with types of Alaska fishing vessels, forms and documentation, instruction on what to look for while on a boarding and a mock boarding complete with a simulated ship’s bridge, engineroom, life rafts, fishing gear and rigging.

The wealth of information boarding team members are expected to absorb in a short time can be overwhelming for some of the law enforcement members who lack experience.

Instructors from the Coast Guard North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center and members of the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore deploy and test an expired 25-man life raft for training in Kodiak, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. Students at the NPRFTC are trained in the use and management of lifesaving equipment, fishery regulations, fish and vessel identification, documentation and gear assessments. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

Instructors from the Coast Guard North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center and members of the Coast Guard Cutter Sycamore deploy and test an expired 25-man life raft for training in Kodiak, Alaska, Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013. Students at the NPRFTC are trained in the use and management of lifesaving equipment, fishery regulations, fish and vessel identification, documentation and gear assessments. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

“It is entirely too much information to take in at once and effectively carry out in the field,” said Gemme. “That’s where we come in. We go on the ship and we help these guys put the pieces together for the first few boardings until they feel comfortable.”

Recently, the 378-foot Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau, homeported in Honolulu, relieved the Coast Guard Cutter Weasche, a 418-foot National Security Cutter homeported in Alameda, Calif., of their law enforcement and search and rescue role in the Bering Sea.

The crew of the Morgenthau had limited experience with North Pacific fisheries, as they predominantly operate in the Western and Central Pacific where fisheries operations differ greatly from Alaska. Their challenge was to ensure safe and proper fishing operations in the ever changing, often hazardous region of Western Alaska. The fisheries at the time included Pacific cod and several species of crab. Both fisheries are conducted using pot gear as opposed to nets or longlines. In addition to regulations and safety, the crews were looking for adherence to stability letters aboard the fishing vessels. Each vessel maintains a procedure for carrying and stacking pots to avoid overloading and sinking at sea — something that has been deadly for operators in the region in the past.

Lt. j. g. Ryan Sherman, assistant navigator and boarding officer-in-training, has been through many different courses, but up until recently had never been on a boarding.

A Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau boat crew retrieves information from the CutterÕs boarding team aboard the fishing vessel Pavlov while performing fisheries boardings in the Bearing Sea, Nov. 26, 2013. The Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau is a 378-foot patrol cutter home ported in Honolulu. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

A Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau boat crew retrieves information from the CutterÕs boarding team aboard the fishing vessel Pavlov while performing fisheries boardings in the Bearing Sea, Nov. 26, 2013. The Coast Guard Cutter Morgenthau is a 378-foot patrol cutter home ported in Honolulu. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jonathan Klingenberg.

“At the boarding officer school they give you a good background in vessel safety, but going into the fisheries training school, I really didn’t know too much about fishing rules and regulations,” said Sherman.

Sherman further explained that even though the training at the school is very informational, there is no way they can cover the “what ifs” that occur during an actual boarding.

“Having the fisheries instructors along on the boardings is extremely beneficial because it give you a chance to take the knowledge you gained in class and use it in an actual environment,” Sherman said. “When going through documents aboard the fishing vessel the instructor can say, ‘Remember how we went over logs in class? How does that apply here?’”

According to Sherman, having the fisheries instructors aboard gave him the support he needed to be confident as a boarding officer leading the team in the future and keep the natural resources and the fishermen who harvest them safe.

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