Coast Guard Cutter Active returned to its homeport in Port Angeles, Wash., Friday after a 52-day patrol off the Washington and Oregon coast.
Active’s crew executed the fast-paced patrol enforcing federal fisheries regulations as part of Operation Pacific Fortune.
The operation is focused on ensuring the vitality of Pacific Northwest fish stocks, maintaining a level playing field amongst fishers, and safeguarding the commercial and recreational fishing industries. These industries contribute more than eight billion dollars to the economy, and the hundreds of millions of dollars in commercial landings fuel economic activity in dozens of small, fishery dependent communities along the Washington and Oregon coasts.
The Active established an overt presence amongst the West Coast albacore tuna fleet, which congregates off the Pacific Northwest coast each summer, enforcing domestic fisheries regulations and maintaining the integrity of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Maritime law enforcement teams from the Active boarded 61 commercial fishing vessels, documenting a wide range of safety and fisheries violations, including retention of prohibited species and the use of illegal gear. A unique part of the deployment included support of international agreements. Under the U.S. Canada Albacore Tuna Treaty, 45 Canadian-flagged vessels are specifically authorized in the EEZ for a prescribed time period. To strengthen this international partnership between the Coast Guard and Canada’s Department of Fisheries & Oceans (DFO) Pacific Region, the Active crew welcomed aboard a Canadian DFO Enforcement Officer for joint law enforcement boardings. The unified effort between the two countries demonstrated a shared commitment to managing precious natural resources.
“It is important to conduct boardings at sea to verify compliance with fisheries regulations and validate that the vessel and crew meet safety and equipment requirements,” said Cmdr. James O’Mara, Active’s commanding officer. “If fisheries violations are observed, we partner with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and their agents for follow-up case work. On the safety side, the Coast Guard is interested in preventing search and rescue cases just as much as we are committed to responding to them. While a dockside inspection establishes a useful baseline, our job at sea is to ensure safety gear onboard works properly while offshore. An inspection that may have occurred two or more years ago may not necessarily represent current working conditions. Some of the vessels have not been boarded at sea in more than 7-10 years, some never boarded at all.”
Equipped with two small boats, a helicopter flight deck, and refueling capabilities, the 210-foot Medium Endurance Cutter offers additional response options for law enforcement or search and rescue cases offshore. The Active crew practiced day and night helicopter landings with Coast Guard aircrews stationed out of Port Angeles, and North Bend, Ore., as well as helicopter in-flight refueling and hoist operations with aircrews from Astoria, Ore. In total, more than 75 helicopter evolutions were conducted, increasing the proficiency for the Active crew, and multiple Coast Guard aircrews.
“We’re very pleased with everything we accomplished this patrol,” said Cmdr. O’Mara. “For years we have been focused on counter narcotics – and necessarily so. But this shifting of gears off our own coasts, to focus on fisheries, safety, search and rescue – it was fantastic. The crew of the Active stepped up in spectacular fashion.”
More frequent patrols are planned with Coast Guard assets during peak commercial fishing seasons to maximize presence and at sea enforcement. As the Coast Guard recapitalizes its cutter fleet, newer and more capable patrol boats can push further south to impact the counter narcotics mission, freeing up medium endurance cutters, like the Active, to rebalance coverage along the Pacific Coast. The Coast Guard will continue to work closely with the commercial fishing industry, fisheries management councils, tribal representatives, and state and federal agencies for a cooperative approach to manage our natural resources, and mitigate risk in the maritime environment.