Navy-Coast Guard team enforces fishing rules


POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Three Coast Guardsmen set sail from Hawaii on board a Navy ship yesterday to enforce federal fishing rules in waters west of the islands.

The joint mission aboard the USS Crommelin is part of the Coast Guard's efforts to strengthen its protection of fishing resources and to deter fishermen from breaking federal law.

The move comes just weeks after the Coast Guard announced the owner of a Republic of the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel paid a $500,000 fine for illegally fishing in protected waters near the U.S.-controlled Howland and Baker islands.

Two enforcement agents and one public affairs officer assigned to document the mission are on the Crommelin, a Pearl Harbor-based guided-missile frigate, said Petty Officer Luke Clayton, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Unlike Navy sailors, the guardsmen have the authority to board and inspect ships suspected of fishing illegally.

“;In order to do proper boardings, you need a proper agent,”; Clayton said. “;That's the main purpose of having Coast Guard personnel on board.”;

Having guardsmen hitch a ride with the Navy allows the Coast Guard to have a presence without sending one of its few ships on patrol.

Federal waters in the Western and Central Pacific include those around American Samoa, Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Johnston Atoll.

Federal waters start 3 nautical miles from the coast and extend to 200 miles from shore.

The Crommelin mission builds on a six-week South Pacific deployment earlier this year by the Coast Guard cutter Rush that resulted in a $700,000 fine against a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel in Kiribati waters.

The Rush took on board three law enforcement officers from the Republic of Kiribati during part of its voyage.

The Kiribati officials boarded the Japanese vessel, which was suspected of violating the terms of its license to fish in Kiribati waters.

After an investigation, the officials seized the vessel and its catch of more than 22,000 pounds of fish and imposed the fine.

Kiribati, formerly the Gilbert Islands, is a collection of 32 low-lying atolls and one raised island that straddle the equator halfway between Hawaii and Australia.