The boats, all from Chinese Taipei, were fishing within the boundaries of the proposed Mariana Trench Marine National Monument. I wanted to know more, so I did a little bit of investigative research (i.e. I called Bob at KSPN and asked him for his source then did a Google search).
I found this story on KUAM and this press release from the US Coast Guard:
600 miles north of Guam would put the area where the illegal fishing vessels were spotted north of Uracas. They weren't near the islands though, they were 20 miles from the edge of the EEZ...but still within the EEZ.COAST GUARD SECTOR GUAM AND CUTTER KUKUI PROTECT MARIANA ISLANDS FISHERIES
GUAM – Coast Guard Cutter Kukui returns to Apra Harbor today following a ten day fisheries enforcement patrol of the Guam / Northern Mariana Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. Working with a C-130 long-range patrol aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, Cutter Kukui interdicted one of three foreign fishing vessels sighted operating illegally inside the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) approximately 600 nautical miles north of Guam.
On 12 August, the C-130 identified three fishing vessels operating illegally inside the EEZ and relayed the position of the fishing vessels to Cutter Kukui. Cutter Kukui then set out to intercept the group. Arriving some 11-hours later, Kukui found the fishing vessels had fled the area. The C-130 relocated one of the fishing vessels the following day and Cutter Kukui again began pursuit, intercepting the vessel that night after a nearly 50 nautical mile chase.
As a result of this enforcement action, one of the foreign fishing vessels has been ordered to return to port and its fishing license will be suspended.
Coast Guard Cutter Kukui is a 225-foot Juniper class buoy tender whose home ported is Honolulu, HI; LCDR Steven Matadobra is the Commanding Officer of Cutter Kukui.
For this operation the US Coast Guard used a HC-130H Long Range Surveillance Aircraft to spot illegal fishing vessels. Once the vessels were spotted from the air, the US Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, a 225' Seagoing Buoy Tender (that's a big boat!), was sent to intercept.
While the Coast Guard press release only mentions the three boats identified 600 miles north of Guam, there were also two other Chinese Taipei vessels filmed from the air. I don't know if those boats were intercepted or not.
So what's the point?
Well, we've been very careful to not make any promises on behalf of the US government, but it is probably not a stretch to assume that there could be increased patrols of the northern waters if they were designated a monument. The people that I know who are involved with Papahanaumokuakea say that the Coast Guard patrols increased in their monument after it was declared.
I do not know how often the patrols are made here locally, but I think they are only made a few times a year. The last trip I remember hearing about was the one where Morgan Rose and Lannie Walker accompanied the Coast Guard to Alamagan to drop off Christmas gifts to the kids living there. Even on that trip, two illegal foreign fishing vessels were spotted.
It seems to me that every time a patrol ship goes up there they catch illegal foreign fishermen. These aren't small boats either, they are catching large commercial longliners that have the ability to spend weeks at sea.
It would benefit local fishermen if these fishing vessels were no longer in our waters. Increased patrols would be a good start.
Kudos to the Coast Guard on a job well done.
This story made the front page of the Saipan Tribune today. The title of the article is Three vessels caught fishing illegally in NMI's EEZ. Actually, only one boat vessel was caught. The other two got away.