Joint US-Canada IUU surveillance operation uncovers more than 3,000 illegal shark fins

Inspectors with the U.S. Coast Guard and Canadian Coast Guard near a pile of illegal shark fins.

A joint operation between the U.S. and Canada recently completed a high seas patrol to detect illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the North Pacific, and discovered more than 3,000 illegally possessed or stored shark fins.

The joint operation, dubbed Operation North Pacific Guard, ran earlier this year. It was the first time that Canada took the lead in the mission, which has taken place each year since 2019.

Over two months, officers and support personnel from the Canadian Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard, and NOAA patrolled 12,000 nautical miles on the Atlantic Condor, a vessel the DFO chartered from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada-based Atlantic Towing Limited. Boarding teams, a DFO release said, found more than 3,000 illegally kept shark fins – including from threatened species like oceanic whitetip shark – via inspections of international vessels.

The patrol also documents incidents of marine pollution and other violations, the DFO said.

“I am proud of the leading role Canada plays in protecting fish stocks threatened by IUU fishing, and in combatting marine ecosystem destruction,” Canada Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Diane Lebouthillier said. “This helps protect the livelihood of our harvesters and maintains sustainable fisheries around the globe.”

In addition to patrols with the Atlantic Condor, Canada also participated in air surveillance which included 31 patrols and visual inspections of over 400 vessels to confirm compliance with conservation members in the North Pacific, the DFO said. DFO added that Canada is working with the appropriate flag states of vessels found to have violated conservation measures.

“Conducting combined missions with Canada during the recent high-seas operation to deter IUU fishing is a major stepping stone toward our enduring mission to preserve fish populations and protein security for future generations,” U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander Andrew Tiongson said. “Counter IUUF regulation doesn’t just belong to one nation, it is the responsibility of every country that subscribes to an international rules-based order and Maritime Governance to come together to preserve our precious resources. Annual forums like this build upon important conversations and operations throughout the year, and ensure we are effective in combatting malign activities on our oceans.”  

The patrol was partially funded through Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative. As part of the overall mission combatting IUU, officers with the Canadian Coast Guard also collected environmental data and water samples to “improve Canada’s understanding of the high seas environment, including the migration range of species of interest, such as Pacific salmon,” the DFO said.

DFO has committed more than CAD 46 million (USD 33.7 million, EUR 31.8 million) over the next five years to combat IUU in the North Pacific.  

Photo courtesy of Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans


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