U.S. Coast Guard Enforces Fisheries Regs on the High Seas

A boarding team from the Mellon approaches a suspect vessel as part of Mellon's IUU fishing enforcement mission (USCG)

Published Jan 28, 2019 1:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mellon is in the South Pacific, conducting the kind of law enforcement patrol that isn't often possible: stopping other nations' ships on the high seas to ensure compliance with an international treaty. 

In the ordinary course of business, a suspect vessel cannot be inspected and searched in international waters unless it either is stateless or the boarding party has the permission of the vessel's flag state. However, the 43 nations of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) have pre-authorized law enforcement units from 13 enforcer nations to board and inspect any WCPFC member's vessels for compliance with fisheries rules. Any violations found are recorded and reported to the Commission, which notifies the suspect vessel's flag state.

Mellon’s crew is helping the Commission enforce its regulations on the tuna fishing industry, a $5 billion per year fishery that is essential to economies in the South Pacific. She left Seattle in late December and stopped over in Hawaii, where she took on two Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officers, two U.S. Navy Aerographer’s Mates and one U.S. Marine Corps Mandarin translator to assist the fisheries enforcement mission. Since arrival in the WCPFC convention area, the crew has patrolled over 1,110 square miles, conducted seven reconnaissance flights, and boarded two vessels, including one fishing vessel and one bunkering vessel. Both boardings discovered potential violations of conservation management measures, including high seas transshipment and specifications for the marking and identification of fishing vessels.

“Participating in the WCPFC ties into a broader strategy the Coast Guard is pursuing in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Capt. Stephen Burdian, the Mellon's CO. “Throughout the area, the U.S., and by extension the Coast Guard, is encouraging relationships respecting sovereignty, supporting fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law in an open and free Oceania. Through a tactical lens, that strategy looks like a Coast Guard boarding of a foreign fishing vessel, while on the high seas or in a sovereign Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) jointly with a member of that country’s enforcement team."