Matthew Jones

Document Type



The U.S. Coast Guard (Coast Guard) is a “multi-mission” agency that is “widely recognized as being one of Government’s most efficient organizations” and “offers the nation a highly motivated, well-trained, cost-effective Service that has demonstrated flexibility and adaptability to meet changing national priorities.” As such, the Coast Guard has and continues to be tasked with a myriad of responsibilities that can currently be divided into five fundamental roles: maritime safety, maritime security, maritime mobility, protection of natural resources, and national defense. These roles require the Coast Guard to conduct activities such as searchand- rescue, drug and migrant interdiction, military operations, marine environmental protection, icebreaking, and port and waterways security throughout an area over one and a half times the size of the lower forty-eight states. Despite the Coast Guard’s considerable value to the United States in conducting these activities, however, it has been and continues to be plagued by a lack of personnel and budgetary resources. For example, in 2006 the Coast Guard had only 39,000 active-duty members to cover over 3.4 million square miles, while the New York City Police Department had a force of similar size to cover only 322 square miles. In addition, the Coast Guard’s total budget of $8.7 billion in 2007 was over $1 billion less than the Marine Corps’ personnel budget alone. Budget shortfalls have had a particularly detrimental effect over the years by preventing the Coast Guard from upgrading its major capital assets, especially its deepwater assets—those capable of operating in “deepwater,” that is, out to and on the high seas. Consequently, the Coast Guard’s ability to conduct effective deepwater missions has been compromised because many of its current deepwater assets are “aging and increasingly obsolete.” Coast Guard enforcement of U.S. fisheries laws illustrates how the state of its deepwater assets can and does prevent it from providing the effective mission performance the nation requires. Specifically, the Coast Guard is charged with at-sea enforcement of fisheries laws throughout the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ)—the area of ocean extending from three to 200 nautical miles offshore—in order to protect the nation’s extremely valuable fishery resources. Although the Coast Guard’s fisheries enforcement program is “well managed overall,” it has not been able to provide the level of activity necessary to ensure proper enforcement of fisheries laws in the EEZ, primarily because the Coast Guard’s current deepwater fleet cannot effectively patrol an area of that size while it is already stretched thin by many other missions. Although the effectiveness of Coast Guard fisheries enforcement is difficult to quantify, over the six years from 2000 to 2005 it has been inconsistent. In fact, during that period the Coast Guard only met its established fisheries enforcement performance targets half of the time. This lack of effective enforcement has, at the very least, exacerbated U.S. fisheries management and protection problems and contributed to the collapse of several major fisheries. Twenty percent of major fish stocks are “already overfished, experiencing overfishing, or approaching an overfished condition.” To ensure proper fisheries management in the future, effective fisheries enforcement is an essential first step. A strong, at-sea “presence” of Coast Guard ships and aircraft in the EEZ is a necessary component of effective fisheries enforcement. The sustainability of our fish stocks is inextricably tied to “proper fishery management measures being effectively enforced both at-sea and ashore.” Moreover, an at-sea presence is necessary to secure the EEZ, to intercept and board vessels that encroach on the EEZ, and to detect violations that can be subverted within the EEZ. The Coast Guard is the only U.S. agency able to conduct at-sea enforcement of fisheries laws, as it alone is capable of projecting the required law enforcement presence in the “deepwater” environment. Consequently, in order for the United States to ensure successful protection of its fishery resources, the Coast Guard’s Integrated Deepwater System (IDS) must be properly funded. IDS, which currently is planned to be a twenty-five-year acquisition program, will provide the Coast Guard with the deepwater assets necessary to perform its many important missions. These assets include new and refurbished cutters, cutter small-boats, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, and unmanned air vehicles, as well as state-of-the-art command–and–control electronic equipment. Presently, funding for IDS has been piecemeal, which has, and continues to, undermine the entire program. In conjunction with this funding, the United States must improve fisheries law enforcement through greater use of alternative enforcement mechanisms that would reduce the need for, or supplement the Coast Guard’s activities, by providing different forms of at-sea law enforcement presence. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), the Office for Law Enforcement (OLE) Investigations and Patrols, and the Fisheries Observer Program represent the possible alternatives that currently exist and could be expanded upon. Specifically, VMS allows NOAA to monitor the movement of fishing vessels through global positioning system tracking devices, which better ensure compliance with fishing area restrictions. OLE Investigations and Patrols provides law enforcement officers who are able to conduct fishery enforcement operations. Finally, the Fisheries Observer Program places individual observers on board fishing vessels to monitor catch and by-catch information, as well as fisheries violations. This article uses the Coast Guard’s at-sea fisheries enforcement program to demonstrate the importance of the Coast Guard’s deepwater capability to the United States and to explain why the nation must commit to providing the deepwater resources the Coast Guard needs to effectively perform all of its missions. In so doing, Part II provides an overview of the laws governing fisheries in the U.S. EEZ and examines the Coast Guard’s responsibilities and performance in enforcing those laws at-sea. Part III analyzes the primary reasons that the Coast Guard is unable to consistently achieve its fisheries enforcement goals. Finally, Part IV provides recommendations for what actions are necessary to improve at-sea enforcement of fisheries laws in the EEZ.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.