Several years ago, the San Francisco-based CGC Aspen, which is a 225-foot buoy tender, seized 8,500 pounds of marijuana in 340 bales from a panga boat about 160 miles west of Los Angeles. In another case, Aspen helped to interdict a vessel carrying more than 224 pounds of cocaine along with the apprehension of six suspected smugglers. Even today, Kelly said Aspen is underway to conduct fisheries boardings.
District 11 also has the 175-foot coastal buoy tender CGC George Cobb. They are not built nor crewed for law enforcement. But while the coastal buoy tenders don’t have a specific capability for law enforcement, they have the ability to support smaller boats and crews. “They can embark shipriders, and have the deck space and the ability to launch and recover boats. They do that pretty routinely to enforce both state and federal fisheries regulations.”
“We have many bilateral ‘Shiprider’ agreements, where we can help our partners with those enforcement duties, whether it’s smuggling or fisheries enforcement,” Kelly said.
Living marine resource enforcement is part of the overarching law enforcement mission of the Coast Guard. But, Kelly said, it requires a very specialized set of training. “With fisheries, there are many local and regional regulations, especially if you’re doing a state fishery or a regional fishery because there’s different kinds of species, gear, and nets. Season openers are challenging because you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen. It depends on what the fish stocks are doing, or if it’s a migratory species, you might be waiting on the water temperature just right in order for the fish to move.
“We might be checking to see if they are catching fish that are too small. Or we may be inspecting the boats, because there are also a lot of vessel safety concerns,” she said. Kelly said that the Boeing Insitu ScanEagle small unmanned aircraft system (sUAS) has been a helpful tool in extending the areas at sea that can be patrolled. “ScanEagle allows us to get good video of bad guys doing bad guy stuff so we could take that back for prosecution. That’s a game-changer. It helps us plan our interdictions. We can watch a suspect vessel, and wait until everything is aligned so we can time the interdiction. We want to get as much information as we can and collect the evidence when we conduct these interdictions, so we can get convictions.”
State and local partners
According to Mark DuPont, executive director of the National Maritime Law Enforcement Academy, federal, state, local, and tribal partners do much more than extend the reach and capability of the Coast Guard. “In some cases, they patrol at a higher level than the Coast Guard. Texas Parks and Wildlife [TPWD] and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission [FWC] are just two state agencies, and each has about 800 sworn officers. Texas Parks and Wildlife has more than 500 boats. They are capable of conducting search and rescue and interdiction.”
DuPont says his organization provides training to certify officers and boat crews to the national standard. This is critical, he said, so that they can work together, understand the same terminology, and follow the same tactics, techniques, and procedures. “Marine law enforcement officers at all levels can integrate seamlessly if they have been trained and certified to the same standard.”
The National Marine Fisheries Service, an office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, works with these local agencies to help enforce national and state fishing regulations at sea. By doing so, they also provide maritime domain awareness and are another node in a sophisticated law enforcement network.