ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Alaska supports some of the most abundant and diverse marine ecosystems in the world. With more than 46,000 miles of shoreline – more than all of the lower 48 U.S. states combined – the ocean is an integral part of Alaska’s ecosystems, economy, history and culture. According to National Marine Fisheries Service’s (NMFS) Fisheries of the United States 2020 report, U.S. commercial fisheries landed 8.4 billion pounds of seafood valued at 4.7 billion dollars, 199-million saltwater recreational fishing trips were taken, and recreational anglers caught one billion fish with 65 percent released alive. According to the 2019 report, commercial and recreational saltwater fishing supported 1.8 million. Alaska produces more than half the fish caught in waters off the U.S. coast, provides jobs and a stable food supply for the nation, and supports a traditional way of life for Alaska Natives and local fishing communities. Protection of the state’s 5.7-billion-dollar domestic fishery has never been more crucial.
The living marine resources (LMR) mission is one of two missions focused on protecting fisheries in and outside U.S. waters. The Coast Guard is responsible for enforcing LMR regulations on domestic, commercial, recreational, and charter fishing vessels. Tasked with enforcing applicable fisheries laws in partnership with the NMFS, the Coast Guard’s goal is to provide the at-sea law enforcement presence necessary to reach national goals for LMR conservation and management. Vessel boardings are a critical component to accomplishing this mission providing an opportunity for teams to inspect a vessel’s catch, gear, and other items to ensure regulatory compliance as well as safety.
“The 17th Coast Guard District’s LMR mission is to promote a level playing field in Alaska’s extremely valuable commercial fisheries, protect resources, and ensure safety of life at sea,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jedediah Raskie, D17’s domestic fisheries enforcement chief. “The LMR enforcement mission is a complex operation requiring in-depth planning, multilateral partnerships and inter-agency collaboration. A continued at-sea presence is crucial, and this is only accomplished through dedication and teamwork with our enforcement partners.”
Those partners include:
Coast Guard – Coast Guard Cutters from Alaska, Washington, Hawaii, and California, Sector Anchorage, Sector Juneau, North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center, Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs)
State – Alaska State Troopers, Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), local law enforcement
Other Federal – NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement (OLE), Department of State, U. S. Drug Enforcement Administration, Customs and Border Protection (CBP)
Collectively in 2022, D17 patrolled 10,723 NMs, conducted 654 federal LMR enforcement boardings (11 on foreign-flagged vessels), detecting 30 violations on 26 vessels, and seizing catch on three fishing vessels. The top five fisheries violations include logbook discrepancies, no Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) permit onboard, expired or no federal fisheries permit (FFP) onboard, sea-bird avoidance gear not onboard or improperly constructed, and improperly marked buoys on fishing gear.
“Right now, our teams are heavily involved with enforcement surrounding the opening of Pacific halibut and sablefish season,” said Lt. Cmdr. Jedediah Raskie. “The Pacific halibut and sablefish Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) program is the largest catch share program in the U.S. and comprises 90 percent of D17’s total fisheries boardings.”
With the IFQ program, each fisherman has a catch quota that can be used during the open season from March to November. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council developed this program to address issues associated with the race-for-fish that had resulted from the open-access and effort control management of the halibut and sablefish fisheries. Top IFQ violations include: not having an official logbook onboard, no IFQ permit and/or FFP onboard, illegally retaining and/or mutilating halibut, and failure to retain and/or log retaining Pacific cod and rockfish.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSFCMA) is the primary law governing mariner fisheries management in U.S. federal waters. The act’s keys objectives are to prevent overfishing, rebuild overfished stocks, increase long-term social and economic benefits, and ensure a safe and sustainable supply of seafood. Prior to the MSFCMA, waters beyond 12 NM were international waters and fished by fleets from other countries.
This 1976 law created eight regional fishery management councils responsible for the fisheries that require conservation and management in their region. The councils are charged with conserving and managing fishery resources from 3 to 200 miles off the coast while the State of Alaska manages fisheries that occur within 3 NM from shore. To learn more, visit About the MSA — U.S. Regional Fishery Management Councils (fisherycouncils.org)).
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) is one of the regional councils established to oversee fisheries in the 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). With a jurisdiction of approximately 1,025,000 NM, the council manages more than 140 species within 47 stocks and stock complexes, primarily groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Aleutian Islands, targeting cod, pollock, flatfish, mackerel, sablefish, and rockfish species harvested by trawl, longline, jig, and pot gear. The council also makes allocation decisions for halibut in concert with the International Pacific Halibut Commission that biologically manages the resource for U.S.-Canada waters. Other large Alaska fisheries for salmon, crab, and scallops are managed jointly with the State of Alaska. More at North Pacific Fishery Management Council - Managing Our Nation's Fisheries Off The Coast Of Alaska (menlosecurity.com).
To better enforce the fishery council’s management plans, the Coast Guard determined that region specific training was necessary to ensure boarding officers received adequate instruction in enforcing the increasingly complex laws that govern our nation’s living marine resources. The Coast Guard’s five fisheries training centers are dedicated to providing training in LMR and protected marine species law enforcement to eliminate natural resource degradation associated with recreational boating, recreational fishing, commercial fishing, and illegal incursions by foreign fishing vessels into our EEZ.
The North Pacific Regional Fisheries Training Center (NPRFTC) in Kodiak trains students operating across the vast and harsh environments of the Seventeenth Coast Guard District, to include the Arctic Ocean, Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands archipelago, Gulf of Alaska, and the Inside Passage, an area that encompasses 3,853,500 SQ NM of sea and more than 47,300 miles of coastline. NPRFTC also teaches the enforcement of Conservation and Management Measures on behalf of four international fisheries commissions and 62 signatory nations across North and South America, Asia, Oceania, Europe, and Africa, covering over 80 percent of the Pacific Ocean. NPRFTC personnel provide instruction to surface and aviation law enforcement crews, command personnel and supporting staff, and deployable specialized forces units. Upon completion of the training, boarding officers are then charged with carrying out the LMR by performing at-sea boardings to ensure compliance.
The nation's waterways and their ecosystems are vital to the country's economy and health. The Coast Guard's LMR mission is to assist in preventing the decline of marine proteced species populations, promote the recovery of marine protective species and their habitats, partner with other agencies and organizations to enhance stewardship of marine ecosystems and ensure internal compliance with appropriate legislation, regulations, and management practices.