ALAMEDA, Calif. — The crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Alder, Terrell Horne and an HC-130 Hercules aircraft recently completed the first high-seas boardings and inspections, in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, under a newly adopted conservation and management measure to monitor and inspect fishing and transshipment operations at-sea in the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO) Convention Area.
As part of Operation Southern Shield, the Coast Guard conducted boardings and overflights within the SPRFMO Convention Area on the high seas off the coast of Peru. For years, the Coast Guard has executed counter-illegal, unreported, or unregulated (IUU) fishing operations and participated in high seas boarding inspections (HSBI) around the globe. This operation was significant as it was timed to implement newly adopted rules in the SPRFMO Convention Area, which comprises nearly a quarter of the Earth’s high seas. The SPRFMO Commission consists of 17 members from Asia, Europe, the Americas, and Oceania, as well as two cooperating non-contracting parties. The primary species targeted in the Convention area are jack mackerel and jumbo flying squid.
Just prior to Operation Southern Shield, the Coast Guard participated in GALAPEX 2023, a recurring joint and multinational exercise hosted by Ecuador and executed in the vicinity of the Galapagos Islands. The Coast Guard conducted communications exercises, practiced counter-narcotics boarding scenarios, and hosted observers from Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil. GALAPEX culminated with full-scale exercises focused on a coordinated multinational response to counter IUU fishing. At the conclusion of the exercise, the Coast Guard patrolled south to focus on high seas boarding inspections off the coast of Peru.
“The U.S. Coast Guard remains committed to conducting combined maritime operations and exercises throughout the Eastern Pacific and will continue to capitalize on every opportunity to work with, learn from, and coordinate through our partners,” said Capt. James O’Mara, Chief of Enforcement for Coast Guard 11th District. “The relationships our services build while planning and executing these operations are essential. The logistics required to enable these operations are significant, and it only happens with the tremendous support of partners like Ecuador and Peru.”
IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. Areas out on the high seas, beyond any country’s exclusive economic zone, can be exploited by fishermen engaged in IUU fishing, as they fish beyond the reach of most law enforcement entities. The Coast Guard’s actions provide inspection presence on the high seas among a distant water fishing fleet made up of more than 400 fishing and transshipment vessels. Much of the fishing in the Eastern Pacific is accomplished by these distant water fishing vessels, some which remain at sea for years at a time, and many of which are supported by transshipment vessels. The Coast Guard’s recent operation directly supported Central and South American partners and their desire to monitor and expand maritime domain awareness of fishing activity near their exclusive economic zones.
Each day during the operation a Coast Guard C-130 aircraft flew sorties over the fishing fleet on the high seas with observers from the Peruvian Navy and Air Force. The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Terrell Horne also diverted to assist the Peruvian Navy in a search and rescue operation. The Terrell Horne located the vessel, then transported an injured fisherman back to shore to receive further medical care from local Peruvian officials.
“The U.S. Coast Guard is committed to working with our allies and partners to strengthen the international fisheries enforcement regime and stop the pervasive IUU fishing threat,” said Rear Adm. Andrew Sugimoto, commander, Coast Guard 11th District. “Operation Southern Shield is just the latest example of that commitment, and we will continue to model and support rules-based order. We applaud the SPRFMO Commission for adopting these latest inspection guidelines and hope to see additional management measures adopted in the future to ensure the sustainability of our ocean resources. Last year we operated off the Galapagos, this year off the coast of Peru, and we will continue to deploy aircraft, cutters, and personnel to support our partners and monitor these distant water fleets wherever they roam. These operations help bring like-minded countries closer together to protect vulnerable fish stocks, support the economic stability of coastal nations, the livelihoods of small-scale and artisanal fishermen, and safeguard ocean resources that fuel global populations and economies.”
Additional photos of Operation Southern Shield 2023