USCG Intercepts Illegal Fishing Vessels Off Guam and Hawaii

USCG HC-130 aircrew returns to Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii after a long-distance surveillance flight (USCG)

Published Feb 24, 2020 9:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

For the first time in eight years, the U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted illegal fishing vessels within American EEZ areas in the Central and Western Pacific. Fishing boat interdiction is a common task for the Coast Guard off the coast of Texas, where Mexican "lancha" fishing boats are routinely intercepted in U.S. waters, but IUU fishing by foreign vessels is almost unheard of in America's far-flung Pacific Ocean EEZ regions.

"While we've seen incursions into the EEZs of partners and illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing on the high seas, these are the first interdictions we've had in the U.S. EEZ since 2012," said Lt. Jason Holstead of the Coast Guard's 14th District, which is responsible for most of the Pacific from Hawaii west. "The combination of partnerships, electronic methods, and putting assets on the scene to catch violators in the act is essential to deterring IUU fishing in Oceania."

In both cases, the Coast Guard was conducting surveillance flights in the zones off Guam and Hawaii with HC-130 aircraft crews based near Pearl Harbor. Case packages for the intercepts were forwarded to the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement for further action, and the investigations are pending.

"While regulation compliance among US fishers is near 97 percent, some of the lowest policed areas, such as the waters in the Western and Central Pacific, are responsible for the highest percentage of significant violations," said Holstead. 

Many IUU fishing vessels in the Central Pacific are targeting tuna. Commercially landed tuna has a wholesale value of $10 billion to $12 billion per year at the dock, and most of it - up to 70 percent - comes from the Pacific Ocean "tuna belt." The region governed by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) accounts for most of this amount.