May 2000



The Arctic Wind, a classic high seas driftnet boat was apprehended and boarded by a team from the United States Coast Guard cutter Sherman, on May 8, 2000. The vessel was first seen 600 miles from Adak, Alaska.

The Sherman had been joined in its pursuit of the vessel by a Coast Guard patrol boat out of Adak. After a 5-day chase, the vessel was boarded but not until after a high seas drama was played out. The vessel had been attempting to "stripmine" the seas of salmon and sail back to the East with its booty undetected. But the sharp eyes of the Coast Guard spotted the telltale signs of a high seas driftnetter and sprung into action. The boat, once detected, sought to escape apprehension by leading the CG in a convoluted chase across the open seas. It did not stop until Cpt. David Ryan received permission to fire on the boat, uncovered his guns and turned them towards the vessel ready to fire warning shots at the surprised and heretofore cocky crew.

Earthtrust salutes the Coast Guard for its " get tough " attitude. This was the first time that the Coast Guard had authorization to use warning shots to stop a driftnet boat that was running away. The Russian crew aboard had apparently overlooked that the use of warning shots had been used successfully by a Russian enforcement boat in a prior driftnet season and didn't believe the U.S. had the moxy to do the same. They were wrong.

The Arctic Wind high seas driftnet boat attempting to outrun the U.S. Coast Guard. May 2000. Credit: U.S Coast Guard.

By apprehending this boat, the Coast Guard prevented the destruction of much marine life. The driftnet season begins in earnest in April/May in the North Pacific so this boat was just getting started. Each boat can stay out up to 8 months or longer at a time. The Coast Guard reported that in the nine miles of net retrieved by this one boat, there was a total of 700 salmon, 8 sharks, 50 puffins, 12 albatross and a porpoise. The species identification of the albatross and the porpoise--which was first thought to be a small whale--is now being undertaken by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

It is hard to know how long this boat was fishing before it was detected, how long it planned to stay out and how much net it was laying and whether it is part of a driftnet fleet. In the past, high seas driftnet boat have turned over their catch to either transshipment or processing boats. In a disturbing development in the fishery, this boat is a fully operational processing ship. We have asked the Coast Guard to ascertain if this boat is part of a driftnet fleet.

Driftnet boats typically string nets up to 40 miles long, and some are equipped to handle up to 90 miles of net. In order to elude capture, boats such as this one may choose to lay shorter nets in order to pull them up quickly to escape detection and apprehension but can still take huge amounts of fish, marine mammals and other creatures over an entire fishing season.

The Arctic Wind. Classic high seas driftnet boat. If you see a vessel like this in port or at sea immediately report it to the U.S. Coast Guard and/or to the Earthtrust DriftNetwork hotline at: (808) 261-5339. For details on the capture of this boat see the Coast Guard press release below.

The impact of this destructive, non-selective fishery is not limited to just the marine life brought on board. Earthtrust notes that research studies from the 1980's and early 90's (and eyewitness accounts from Earthrust staff aboard driftnet boats) indicate that there is a high dropout rate of bycatch when the nets are brought in. The crews deliberately try to shake out the bycatch that they don't want and jerk the net sharply to fling off dolphins, turtles, manta rays and other unwanted catch, thus the observed take is only a fraction of what is actually caught.

As is typical of illegal high seas driftnet boats, this boat tried to mask its identity. It was flying the flag of Honduras (registration expired), is Korean owned and the crew is Russian. It was catching salmon for sale to Japan. The CG received authorization from Honduras to board the vessel and we have asked the Coast Guard to question the crew to find out more about the illicit driftnet activities that are going on worldwide.

We encourage travelers and sailors to be on the lookout for driftnet boats in foreign ports and on the high seas. The U.S Coast Guard is doing all it can to bring to justice violators of the U. N. moratorium and related laws and treaties. But the Coast Guard's driftnet patrols are limited to the North Pacific. Boats such as the Arctic Wind also ply the waters of other parts of the world, virtually undetected.

The Arctic Wind. High seas driftnet boat responsible for killing salmon, albatrosses, whales, and dolphins and countless other sea creatures in the North Pacific until stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard May 2000.

We urge you to contact the U.S. Coast Guard and/or the Earthtrust DriftNetwork hotline to report suspected driftnet activity.

Earthtrust's DriftNetWork was formed in 1991 to keep the pressure on to find and apprehend high seas driftnet boats globally. Earthtrust was contacted by Lt. Jeff Robertson of the U.S. Coast Guard with news of this latest driftnet boat. Lt. Robertson emailed us the first photos of the "Arctic Wind " and details of her heinous activities and apprehension by the Coast Guard. We work closely with and appreciate the vigilance of the Coast Guard in protecting the seas from the scourge of high seas driftnets. The CG are heroes in the fight to protect marine mammals from drowning in driftnets. Their efforts and budgets for continuing to do so deserve your support.

- S. White, Program Director
Email: EarthTrust

Subject: NEWS RELEASE -- U.S. Coast Guard seizes High Seas Driftnet fishing vessel Arctic Wind

Date: Fri, 12 May 2000 15:00:45 -0700

Coast Guard seizes Arctic Wind

JUNEAU, Alaska - The Coast Guard seized the 177-foot fishing vessel Arctic Wind this morning, following a 12-day law enforcement operation directed against the Honduran-registered, Korean-owned, Russian-crewed high seas drift net vessel south of Adak. The Coast Guard received permission from the Honduran government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs today to enforce U.S. law
against the Arctic Wind.

The cutter Sherman crew will escort the vessel to Adak where the crew will be turned over to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the vessel will be turned over to the National Marine Fisheries Service. The vessels are scheduled to arrive in Adak Saturday afternoon.

All of the evidence gathered by the Sherman crew will be turned over to the U.S. Attorney's office in Anchorage for further action. Possible penalties against the Arctic Wind include vessel, catch and equipment forfeiture.

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 aircraft crew, conducting a high seas drift net patrol, first spotted the 177-foot ship and a drift net May 1 over 600 miles southwest of Adak.

The 378-foot, Alameda, Calif.-based cutter Sherman departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska, May 3 to begin its 850-mile transit to the last known position of the Arctic Wind.

The Sherman crew stopped and boarded Arctic Wind Monday, May 8, for suspicion of illegal high seas drift net fishing. The boarding took place after a 27-hour chase by the Sherman. During that time, the Coast Guard crew attempted to communicate with the Arctic Wind crew in English, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Korean with no results. A Coast Guard Dolphin helicopter crew, deployed aboard the Sherman, dropped messages to the vessel as well.

The Arctic Wind crew made several course changes and radical maneuvers to evade the Sherman and prevent a boarding while the drift net vessel traveled south, and then west.

The U.S. protects salmon on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean in cooperation with the member governments of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission (NPAFC), Canada, Russia and Japan. This commission prohibits fishing for pacific salmon and steelhead on the high seas of the North Pacific Ocean. A Chinese fisheries law enforcement officer is currently aboard the cutter Sherman to assist with language translation and for possible boardings involving Chinese drift net vessels.

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