Maritime Enforcement Specialist 3rd Class Stefan
Phelps, a boarding officer on Campbell, described a
typical boarding procedure during an interview aboard
the cutter, which had pulled in to Coast Guard Base
Boston for several days for minor repair work before
heading back out on patrol.
“As soon as we get on, after we do a sweep to make
sure the vessel is seaworthy, we inspect the gear, the
nets or, in the case of scallops, the dredges, inspect the
safety gear onboard,” he said. “The fishermen are very
respectful, we treat them the same. Most of them are
glad to have us out there because they know someone
who was saved by the Coast Guard.”
“Our goal is to get in, verify compliance and get out so
they can keep doing their jobs,” Virkaitis said. “Most of
the fishermen are honest. They’re out there trying to
make a living and they’re doing the best they can — in
bad weather, in complicated regulations, you name it. By
and large, the fishing fleet, they’re honest, hardworking
mariners and I really respect that. The ones who are try-
ing to gain an advantage are the ones that we try and get.”
Some examples of the most significant violations
include illegal net configurations, fishing in areas that are
closed to protect the habitat fish live in, or the areas in
which they spawn, and exceeding catch limits.
“These violations result in the most harm to the
resource and also provide the most significant payoff to
the fishermen who get away with it,” Virkaitis said.
“We constantly strive to improve our enforcement
effectiveness on the water.
“Recently our boarding teams discovered a rash of
illegal net configurations in an area that we had not
been routinely inspecting. In these cases, extra layers
of legal-sized net were lashed on top of another legal-sized net. This effectively cuts the net openings in half
so small fish are unable to escape. After word spread
through the fleet, we stopped finding this violation,
which is a good sign of effective enforcement.
“In the past, we have also discovered concealed
compartments that are capable of holding hundreds or
even thousands of pounds of fish, scallops or other
things. If these compartments were filled with extra
scallops, which can fetch over $12 per pound, the
monetary advantage is obvious,” he said.
In closed area cases, where a vessel strays off course
or intentionally enters a protected area there may be no
need to even conduct a boarding, Virkaitis said. The
recently added HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft can overfly the vessel and accurately mark the position as
inside a closed area while simultaneously collecting
pictures of the crew engaged in fishing.
“If we don’t enforce the rules, then there are no
rules,” he noted.
Campbell typically operates far out by the EEZ
boundary, 150 to 180 miles offshore, according to
Caputo. Out there is where vessels fish for 13 species
of ground fish — such as flounder, haddock and cod
— and dredge for scallops.
The once venerable cod, the very symbol of New
England commercial fisheries for centuries, has seen its
stocks dwindle to the point where
its catch now is severely restricted.
NOAA closed off most of the waters
off the Northeast coast to cod fishing for six months in November,
and catch limits have been reduced
for Gulf of Maine cod by 75 percent
for the 2015 fishing year.
“The cod is in trouble,” Caputo
It is not alone, and as quotas
shrink and more restrictions are
placed on where fish can be caught
and when, it puts even more pressure on the fishing industry, and
makes the Coast Guard’s enforcement activities all the more essential.
Campbell’s boarding missions are
performed by what Caputo calls the
ship’s “Ferrari,” an over-the-horizon
boat that can be lowered over the
side while the cutter is well out of
sight of a target vessel and is capable
of traveling at up to 40 knots.
WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 20 SEAPOWER / JULY/AUGUST 2015
A pod of killer whales surfaces off the bow of the Medium-Endurance Cutter
Campbell about 156 miles southeast of Nantucket, Mass., in June 2014. These
sightings are extremely rare for the area and provided a glimpse of a species that
the Coast Guard helps protect through its living marine resources efforts.