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US Coast Guard Uses Bigger Vessels To Monitor Canadian Tuna Fleet

Local fishing fleets may encounter larger, unfamiliar U.S. Coast Guard cutters on the water this summer, enforcing federal and state fisheries regulations and performing duties often conducted by local Coast Guard

The Coast Guard's Seattle-based High Endurance Cutter Mellon was in the area from mid-July to Aug. 2, boarding vessels and inspecting them to enforce all applicable federal laws and regulations, said Lt. Robert Chambers, Living Marine Resources Program manager for Coast Guard District 13.

"In total, Mellon conducted 10 boardings on commercial fishing vessels. Four of these were U.S. tuna trollers, three were Canadian tuna trollers, two were shrimp trawlers and one was trawling for groundfish," Chambers said.

Mellon hasn't been monitoring fisheries in the area for about four years, said Brian Corrigan, fisheries enforcement officer for District 13, because the 378-foot ship is usually working the demanding waters off the Alaska coastline. But this year, one of the three locally-based vessels, the Cutter Alert, is out of commission getting a major overhaul at a Maryland dry dock.

Up until a few years ago, the High Endurance Cutter class was the largest of the Coast Guard fleet, aside from the two Polar Class Icebreakers. The cutters are equipped with a helicopter flight deck, retractable hangar, and the facilities to support helicopter deployment.

Cutter crews ensure the long-term conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks by monitoring fishing vessel catches. The protection of natural resources is one of the multi-purpose cutter missions which also include maritime safety, maritime security, maritime mobility and national defense.

The stops can be hours long, and might cause fishermen expensive headaches, especially if the fishing vessel is instructed to head back to the dock.

"It is the responsibility of the Coast Guard boarding officer conducting a boarding of a vessel ... to assess whether a vessel may present an especially hazardous condition warranting termination of the vessel's voyage," Chambers said. Two vessels' trips were ended prematurely during Mellon's recent patrol, he said.

Corrigan said he wouldn't be surprised if people didn't expect such a large ship to be patrolling in the area, but considering the resources available, the Coast Guard is continually revisiting where each vessel is most needed.

"It's a combination of factors. Mellon typically patrols outside of that area because of its size," Corrigan said.

Corrigan said another, even larger ship may soon be patrolling our waters. The 418-foot Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf has left Seattle after participating in the 60th annual Seafair Fleet Week and is conducting its first fisheries enforcement patrol off the coast of Oregon and Washington.

The month-long voyage will be the first fisheries patrol conducted by the Alameda, Calif.-based National Security Cutter. Bertholf, commissioned in 2008, leads the eight-ship Legend class, and usually has over 110 people onboard. The National Security Cutters have been designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard's modern fleet.

As the first of eight planned National Security Cutters being built as part of the Coast Guard's deepwater major-acquisition and modernization program, Bertholf and its crew interdicted more than 3,080 pounds ofccocaine over the last two months, preventing more than $40 million worth of drugs from reaching the streets of the United States.