The U.S. Coast Guard is hailing a Honolulu-based cutter’s seizure of a 191-foot vessel for illegal drift-net fishing in the North Pacific Ocean as an example of cooperation by four nations in fisheries enforcement.
According to a Tuesday statement from the Coast Guard, the Yin Yuan was initially spotted by a Canadian CP-140 maritime patrol craft, carrying a Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans Enforcement official. Its sighting was relayed to the 378-foot high endurance cutter Morgenthau, on patrol during Operation North Pacific Guard, part of an international effort to counter drift-net fishing -- the use of massive nets which take bycatch ranging from marine mammals to seabirds.
“The practice is universally condemned and is a significant threat to ocean ecosystems and to the food and economic security of nations and communities that rely on fisheries resources,” Coast Guard officials wrote. “The Yin Yuan displayed characteristics of large-scale high seas drift net fishing to include: net tube, net spreader, net bin, nets and net buoys on deck, and the sighting information was passed to the crew of the Morgenthau.”
The Morgenthau caught up with the Yin Yuan about 625 miles east of Tokyo, Japan, where the crew claimed Chinese registry -- a possibility the cutter was prepared for.
“The crew of the Morgenthau intercepted and boarded the vessel with two law enforcement officials from the China Coast Guard’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command and interviewed the master,” officials wrote. “Since 1994, the Coast Guard and NOAA Fisheries Service have annually hosted law enforcement officers from the China Fishery Law Enforcement Command (China coast guard this year) onboard Coast Guard cutters patrolling in the North Pacific Ocean.”
While the ship’s master admitted to having thrown some 3.3 kilometers of drift net and other fishing gear overboard before being stopped, the boarding party found roughly half a ton of salmon aboard. In addition to the use of the drift net, boarders found evidence that the Yin Yuan hadn’t maintained sufficient data on its catch, and didn’t have properly issued fishing permits from a recognized authority.
The commander of the Coast Guard’s 17th District, Rear Adm. Thomas Ostebo, praised the multilateral effort against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing -- backed by a United Nations moratorium -- which led to the Yin Yuan’s seizure.
"This seizure is a direct result of the teamwork between the Coast Guard and our Chinese, Japanese, and Canadian law enforcement partners," Ostebo said in the statement. "IUU vessels are a scourge on our living marine resources that we are only able to stop through the application of our long range resources, such as high endurance and national security cutters, and international cooperation."
Petty Officer 3rd Class Grant DeVuyst, a spokesperson with the 17th District, says the Yin Yuan was first spotted on May 22, then boarded from the Morgenthau on May 27.
"The ship was spotted from the Canadian plane, and they had Japanese spotters on board who were helping, so (it was) a real team effort," DeVuyst said.
The Morgenthau transferred the Yin Yuan to the custody of the China coast guard cutter 2102 in the East China Sea on Tuesday.