First Canadian-Led High Seas Mission to Fight Illegal Fishing in the North Pacific Finds over 3000 Shark Fins
October 12, 2023
Ottawa, ON - Fishery officers from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) successfully completed their first Canadian-led high seas patrol to detect and deter illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the North-Pacific, a region critical to implementing Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy and upholding its international obligations. The mission, known as Operation North Pacific Guard, is an annual, multi-national effort to coordinate fisheries enforcement to protect global fish stocks. Canada’s efforts included ship, satellite and air surveillance, supported by personnel from the Canadian Coast Guard, officers from the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
For two months, officers and support personnel patrolled over 12,000 nautical miles on the chartered vessel, the Atlantic Condor, the equivalent of travelling half-way around the world. The goal of the mission was to find illegal high seas driftnets, illegal fishing activity, and inspect fishing vessels under international law to ensure compliance with fisheries regulations.
The boarding team interacted with over 400 crew members from different nations onboard their vessels. During inspections on these international vessels, Canadian officers discovered over 3,000 illegally possessed or stored shark fins, including threatened species such as oceanic whitetip shark, and documented incidents of marine pollution, among other violations.
Canada also conducted air surveillance (based out of Japan) in support of Operation North Pacific Guard. Canadian Fishery Officers and air crew flew 31 patrols, and visually inspected over 400 vessels to confirm compliance with the conservation measures in place throughout the North Pacific. Information from this air patrol was shared with enforcement partners in Japan and the United States.
Canada is now working with the appropriate flag states to support further investigations and sanctions on offending vessels, including providing evidence for 58 violations detected during these patrols.
During the mission, officers also collected environmental data and water samples to improve Canada’s understanding of the high seas environment, including the migration range of species of interest, such as Pacific salmon.
This patrol was supported by funding from the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), which aims to enhance conservation, protection and enforcement efforts in high-risk areas for Canada’s Pacific salmon stocks. Operation North Pacific Guard continues to be part of Canada’s larger commitment to protect Canadian fish stocks and global marine ecosystems.
“I am proud of the leading role Canada plays in protecting fish stocks threatened by IUU fishing, and in combatting marine ecosystem destruction. This helps protect the livelihood of our harvesters and maintains sustainable fisheries around the globe. I thank the experienced crew of fishery officers, Coast Guard personnel and our partners in the United States Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for their efforts under Operation Pacific North Guard to detect and deter illegal fishing activities.”
The Honourable Diane Lebouthillier, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
“Conducting combined missions with Canada during the recent high-seas operation to deter IUU fishing is a major steppingstone toward our enduring mission to preserve fish populations and protein security for future generations. Counter IUUF regulation doesn’t just belong to one nation, it is the responsibility of every country that subscribes to an international rules-based order and Maritime Governance to come together to preserve our precious resources. Annual forums like this build-upon important conversations and operations throughout the year, and ensure we are effective in combatting malign activities on our oceans.”
Vice Adm. Andrew Tiongson, U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Area Commander
IUU fishing is a major contributor to declining fish stocks and the destruction of marine ecosystems globally, and undermines the livelihoods of legitimate fish harvesters around the globe. This illegal activity poses a risk to salmon populations in the North Pacific Ocean and is considered to be a potential driver of Pacific salmon declines.
Canadian Fishery Officers have taken part in the annual Operation North Pacific Guard on United States Coast Guard vessels since 2019, an annual international law enforcement operation on the high seas of the North Pacific.
Fishery officers conduct patrols, under international law, to enforce the United Nations Ban on High Seas Driftnets and to ensure compliance with regulations of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) that protect against IUU fishing.
Canada will pursue appropriate sanctions for suspected violations of RFMO requirements directly with flag-states of the vessel in question. A flag state is the jurisdiction under whose laws the vessel is registered or licensed, and is deemed the nationality of the vessel.
Should the flag-state response to significant violations fail to satisfy members, the relevant international Commission may ban the vessel from fishing.
An experienced crew of DFO Fishery Officers from across BC participated, supported by Canadian Coast Guard experts in navigation and small craft operations and advanced levels of emergency medical training.
The US Coast Guard and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provided experienced boarding officers to support these Canadian-led boardings, and who worked alongside Canadian Fishery Officers onboard.
This year’s operation included a total of 15 Pacific Region Fishery Officers who participated in high seas boarding and inspections over two phases. Air surveillance operations in Japan included four Fishery Officers who each completed approximately 3 weeks of air patrols.
Office of the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
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