Coast Guard halts engagements after Russian annexation

Photo/Courtesy/US Coast Guard

JUNEAU — Political fallout from Russia’s military-backed annexation of the Crimean Peninsula has hit Alaska’s fisheries. The annual U.S. Coast Guard/Russian Border Service meeting to coordinate spring enforcement plans of the United Nations ban on high seas drift netting is on hold.

“At this time all bilateral engagements with Russia have been postponed and this includes all forums, conferences and exercises,” said Chief Petty Officer Kip Wadlow March 21.

The U.S. and allies have been announcing travel restrictions against senior Russian governmental personnel and oligarch associates of President Vladimir Putin since Russia announced its annexation of the Ukrainian province earlier this month.

What has been an annual planning session was scheduled for April 15 to 20 in Vladivostok. High seas salmon drift netting in the middle of the North Pacific took place in the spring until halted by the UN adopted the moratorium on commercial-length driftnets in the early 1990.

How cancellation of the preseason session might impact enforcement activities is unclear.

“These decisions do not impact the 17th District Coast Guard’s ability to engage with our Russian counterparts with regard to active law enforcement cases, any urgent search and rescue cases that may be going on, or other operational emergencies where we can render assistance,” Wadlow said.

Drift net treaty enforcement generally includes Canadian patrol flights that report sightings of gear or suspect vessels to Coast Guard cutters on general or treaty-related patrol across the high seas. Suspected drift net pirates have been chased across the Pacific to Russian and even Chinese national waters where they have been apprehended by cooperating patrol vessels from those countries.

Participation in multi-lateral meetings with Russian delegations, including the annual meeting of the international commission that manages the drift net treaty, is being allowed on a case-by-case basis, Wadlow said.

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, including delegations from Canada, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S., is scheduled for May 12 to 16 in Portland, Ore.

“Because of the Ukrainian situation the U.S. government as a whole is reassessing its bilateral relationship with Russia. The Coast Guard has a part in that,” said Coast Guard Capt. Phillip Thorne, who represents the U.S. on the treaty enforcement committee.

Canada’s enforcement officer on the committee said plans relating to Russia are currently proceeding normally.

“We have not been advised otherwise,” said Gary Miller from Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans on March 18. “Until I hear otherwise, I think it will proceed normally,” Miller said of enforcement activities.

Bob Tkacz is a correspondent for the Journal based in Juneau. He can be reached at [email protected].

03/26/2014 - 12:17pm