Canadian operation uncovers illegal fishing in North Pacific
Canadian fishery officers participating in a multinational maritime surveillance mission have uncovered a number of violations on the high seas of the North Pacific, including incidents of shark fishing.
Dubbed Operation North Pacific Guard, the annual international law enforcement operation also included law enforcement officials from the United States, South Korea, and Japan.
Canadian officers discovered an undisclosed number of violations, according to a media release by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO). Canadian officers were reported to have discovered incidents of sharks being caught and kept, and also recorded a number of vessels with improper identification markings.
During vessel inspections, a number of cases were reported of harvesters failing to maintain proper catch records, which are used by fishery managers to calculate sustainable harvest limits.
The surveillance mission is one of the latest efforts to deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity, which is often cited as one of the leading causes of plummeting fish stocks and maritime environmental destruction.
According to the DFO, IUU fishing has been estimated to account for roughly 30 percent of all fishing activity globally, amounting to as much as 26 million metric tons of fish and costing the global economy over USD 17 billion (EUR 16.9 billion) a year.
"Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing cheats people living in coastal communities out of hard-earned income. In addition, it causes severe harm to aquatic ecosystems and fish stocks, like wild Pacific salmon,” Canada Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Joyce Murray said. “Hard-working, law-abiding harvesters work to protect oceans and ensure sustainable fisheries here in Canada and around the world. We will continue working with our international and non-governmental partners to combat these harmful practices that affect global food security and fish sustainability."
During Operation North Pacific Guard, Canadian fishery officers were deployed to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro to participate in on-board vessel inspections, and were also deployed to Hokkaido, Japan, where they conducted daily patrols over the Northwest Pacific, an area identified by the DFO for its density of high seas fishing activity.
Support was provided by the DFO’s Dash-8 patrol aircraft, and guided by intelligence cooperation between Canada's Marine Security Operations Centre, U.S. Coast Guard District 17, U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Intelligence Fusion Centre, Global Fishing Watch, and Canada's Department of National Defence.
Canada flew 29 patrols over 247 hours, and covered a total of 44,200 nautical miles during the mission.
The DFO said Operation North Pacific Guard is an opportunity for law enforcement partners from around the Pacific to work together in enforcing regulations adopted by regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs) related to fishing on the high seas.
Global Fishing Watch, which participated in Operation North Pacific Guard through its fishing vessel intelligence website, has welcomed a stepped-up global response to IUU this year.
After a prolonged hiatus due to COVID-19, physical surveillance in the Western and Central Pacific resumed with Operation Kurukuru last month, involving a number of Pacific Island states including Fiji, Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Tonga, as well as Australia, New Zealand, U.S.A., and France.
“We didn't have any gaps in our operations during COVID-19 thanks to our use of virtual platforms and latest technologies, but having all the human resources back together for our operation has been invaluable for ensuring compliance of vessels,” Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Director Fisheries Operations Allan Rahari said.
The surveillance area for Operation Kurkuru consisted of the 15 Pacific Island FFA members’ exclusive economic zones and adjacent high seas areas, amounting to over 23 million square kilometers – over three times the land mass of Australia.
The FFA Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre coordinated intelligence to support participating nations and inform the deployment of seven planes, satellites and 12 ships. The Canadian government provided satellite data to identify potential targets, the FFA said.
Complimenting recent surveillance missions, two separate anti-IUU initiatives have also been launched this year: the Joint Analytical Cell and the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness.
The stepped up response to IUU fishing has been welcomed by fisheries watchdog group, Global Fishing Watch.
Earlier this year, China’s coast guard carried out its own surveillance operation in the North Pacific.
According to China’s Xinhua News Agency, the China Coast Guard (CCG) deployed two ships for a 45-day patrol and made five on-board inspections, returning to port in September.
Photo courtesy of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada