The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball returned to Honolulu Friday after completing an 82-day deployment in support of fisheries enforcement missions across the Pacific.

The patrol covered over 2,000 nautical miles as the Coast Guardsmen worked with agencies across the region and searched for illegal fishing operations.

“Over the past 82 days, Kimball’s crew conducted joint operations with the Japanese Coast Guard, Royal Australian Navy, Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency, and U.S. Navy,” Capt. Holly Harrison, the cutters commander, said in a Coast Guard press release. “In each operation, we were thoroughly impressed with our partners’ professionalism, skill, and commitment to Oceania and regional security.”

While patrolling approximately 3,600 miles in the Philippine Sea, the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball’s law enforcement team conducted its first ever at-sea boarding, Feb. 10, 2021. As part of Operation Blue Pacific, the crew of the Kimball deployed in support of national security goals of stability and security throughout the Indo-Pacific. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball/Released)
Coast Guard Cutter Kimball’s law enforcement team boards a fishing vessel in the Philippine Sea as part of its 82-day patrol. Courtesy: U.S. Coast Guard/2021

The Kimball is one of the Coast Guard’s newer 420-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters, one of several new high-tech vessels replacing aging cutters the service has long relied on.

During the patrol the Kimball’s crew queried 21 foreign fishing vessels and boarded six. Throughout the patrol the crew used drones to gather information on fishing operations and shared them with fisheries regulators. The drones were also used during both day and night searches for a missing mariner southwest of Guam.

Both the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy have become increasingly concerned with fisheries. Last year the Coast Guard released a strategic plan that said illegal fishing had eclipsed pirates as the top security threat at sea, and that depletion of fish stocks had the potential to fuel regional and global conflicts on both land and sea.

Before President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election, his White House announced a plan to boost the Coast Guard’s presence in the Pacific with new vessels. President Joe Biden seems to be similarly invested in expanding the Coast Guard’s role.

Fisheries enforcement has always been a key part of the Coast Guard’s mission. But the U.S. military’s newfound passion for fisheries is in part related to rising tensions between Washington and Beijing. The Chinese fishing fleet is heavily subsidized by its government and has been accused of aggressive overfishing world wide, sometimes clashing violently with other fishermen and with coast guards.

The Chinese military also utilizes a “maritime militia” of military-trained fishermen that has been used for surveillance and to stake out disputed waters. Most recently over 200 Chinese fishing boats began staking out a reef off the coast of the Philippines last month, leading to condemnation from Philippine government officials and local fishermen, as well as officials from neighboring countries.

“The National Security Cutters bring a capacity and capability into the Coast Guard which are truly game changing when it comes to curbing (illegal fishing) in the Pacific,” Rear Adm. Matthew Sibley, commander of Coast Guard 14th District, said in the press release. “Patrols such as the Kimball’s display these cutters’ ability to cover large swaths of the Pacific and support our partners in joint conservation efforts while contributing to the overall stability of the region.”

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