Protecting our oceans: Nabbing drift net violators

CGC Munro interdicts a suspect illegal drift net vessel

The crew of the Kodiak-based Coast Guard Cutter Munro monitors the Bangun Pekasa, a stateless fishing vessel suspected of illegal large-scale high-seas drift net fishing Sept. 9, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Renegade large-scale high-seas drift net fishing indiscriminately kills massive amounts of fish and other marine life such as whales and turtles. The practice of using enormous nets suspended for miles in open water is a significant threat to ocean ecosystems and to the food and economic security of nations relying on fishery resources.

With miles of netting deep under the water’s surface, drift net fishing is difficult for law enforcement authorities to spot. But earlier this month, the Coast Guard – in cooperation with federal and international partners – seized a fishing vessel and crew suspected of large-scale illegal high-seas drift net fishing in the North Pacific Ocean.

High Seas Drift Net Vessel

The crew of the Bangun Pekasa tend to fishing nets prior to a Coast Guard Cutter Munro law enforcement boarding. The Coast Guard actively participates in the international cooperative efforts against large-scale high-seas drift net fishing as encouraged by the United Nations moratorium. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Acting on vessel sighting information from a Fisheries Agency of Japan airplane, Coast Guard Cutter Munro launched its helicopter and crew who located the fishing vessel Bangun Perkasa with 22 fishermen aboard approximately 2,600 miles southwest of Kodiak, Alaska.

Bangun Perkasa’s crew reportedly abandoned their fishing nets and attempted to leave the area once they spotted the helicopter flying above them. The vessel was found to be operating without valid flag state registration and seized as a stateless vessel for violations of U.S. law.

Upon boarding the vessel, a Munro team found more than 10 miles of drift net, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses aboard. They retrieved the abandoned net and began the lengthy escort toward Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

“The seizure of the Bangun Perkasa highlights how international cooperation along with U.S. Coast Guard high endurance cutters can detect, monitor, and interdict high-seas drift net fishing vessels,” said Capt. Gregory Sanial, 17th Coast Guard District chief of enforcement. “This method of fishing is illegal, despicable and shows complete disregard for the world’s ecosystem, and the joint effort of the many Pacific nations shows our dedication to ending this barbaric practice, enforcing maritime law and being good stewards of the environment.”

Munro handed the vessel’s escort back to port off to Coast Guard Cutter Midgett, which is bringing the Bangun Perkasa to Dutch Harbor where the case will be turned over to the Alaska Region of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement for the investigation.

“We will conduct a thorough investigation of this case and continue our work to prevent high-seas drift net fishing, which is globally recognized as an indiscriminate fishing practice that kills marine mammals, sea birds, sharks and fish,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement in Alaska continues to combat this illegal fishing with the help of Canada, Russia, Japan, China and Korea, our international partners in the North Pacific.”

“This case demonstrates how our cutters and crews allow the United States to maintain constant vigil far from the U.S. mainland,” said Rear Adm. Cari Thomas, the Coast Guard director of response policy. “Our high endurance cutters routinely operate from South America to the Bering Sea. The Munro, and cutters like it, are more than 40 years old and slated for replacement. National Security Cutters that are faster, better equipped, more durable, safer and more efficient than their predecessor, will continue to ensure U.S. interests are protected today and for decades to come.”

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