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Far from home protecting lives and living marine resources #USCG

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2012
Posted by: PA3 Jonathan Lally
BERING SEA - The fishing vessel California Horizon, right, approaches the processing vessel Ocean Phoenix after being boarded by a Coast Guard Cutter Active boarding team in the Bering Sea June 13, 2012. U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter Active.
Maintaining safety at sea for mariners is one of the Coast Guard’s many missions. Coast Guard cutter crews along the west coast participate in a historic patrol known as the Bering Sea patrol ensuring a near constant presence in Alaska’s western waters.

The Revenue Cutter Service, the Coast Guard’s predecessor, had cutters patrol the frigid Alaskan waters since the mid-1800s. The patrol was federally mandated as a law enforcement patrol, but was also designed to provide an asset to assist any mariners in distress.

In the 21st century, more than 160 years after the first cutter set sail to patrol Alaskan waters, the safety and security role of the Coast Guard remains valid. Recently the 210-foot Coast Guard Cutter Active crew stopped in Kodiak for fisheries training, restocking supplies and to enjoy a little shore time before getting underway to conduct their Bering Sea patrol.

Once at sea the cutter’s mission is to enforce federal regulations governing fisheries and ensure vessels operating in U.S. waters are doing so safely. Additionally, they are putting to use the knowledge gained or refreshed attending the fisheries training in Kodiak. Boarding teams aboard fishing vessels review log books, observe and report the types of fish being caught and the bycatch amounts to the National Marine Fisheries Service to ensure the vessels are operating with in the scope of their permits and the active fisheries. While aboard they also check the vessel for material safety and crew readiness.

“We have been patrolling in the Bering Sea since June 2 and have conducted more than 10 boardings of fishing vessels,” said Lt. Andrew Grantham, the operations officer aboard the cutter Active. “All of the cutter’s boarding teams have commented on how clean the fishing vessels are and how professional and helpful all the fishermen have been.”

Coast Guard cutter crews, like the Active’s, patrol the waters nationwide to enforce domestic fisheries laws, international fisheries agreements and to protect the U.S. exclusive economic zone from foreign encroachment. The cutter’s proximity to the fishing fleets also reduces the response time the Coast Guard has to reach a vessel or mariner in distress.

Grantham mentioned that patrolling the Alaskan waters is quite different from the cutter’s normal area of responsibility.

“Aside from the numerous species of fish in the world’s oceans there is an abundance of marine life we are not accustomed to seeing in the waters off Washington State and around Central America,” said Grantham. “For example it was quite a sight to see a whale breach about 50 yards off our bow.”

He went on to say that while also patrolling in the Bering Sea and visiting the port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, the crew came across vessels most had only seen televised on the Discovery Channel show Deadliest Catch.

The Active crew will continue to patrol the Alaskan waters to ensure the safety of mariners at sea and ensure compliance with all safety and fishing regulations required of mariners fishing in U.S. waters until properly relieved by another cutter and crew later this summer. The Active was last in Alaska in the mid-nineties and will likely be back in the future.