Alaska Editorial: Delegation sponsors measure to combat pirate vessels

  • Wednesday, December 9, 2015 1:05am
  • Opinion

The following editorial first appeared in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

In Interior Alaska, hundreds of miles from the ocean, it’s a safe bet most people aren’t concerned about pirates. But as a state, pirates — specifically pirate fishing vessels — are a source of great consternation. Each year, billions of dollars in illegally harvested fish appears on world markets, causing serious financial harm to places like Alaska, where fishing is strictly regulated and commercial operators play by the rules or face strong fines, sanctions and even potential jail time depending on the nature of their offenses. A new bill signed into law by President Barack Obama last month will bring international focus to the issue of pirate fishing — and doing the lifting in Congress was Alaska’s delegation.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced the Senate’s version of the pirate fishing bill, which would ratify a 2009 international treaty related to the practice. She was joined by junior Alaska U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan as a sponsor, and Rep. Don Young was a sponsor of the house version of the bill.

The bill and treaty seek to create a master list of vessels participating in the commercial fishing trade around the world, barring port access for vessels identified as having trafficked in illegally caught fish. Like most international treaties, it only works if all the relevant nations get on board, and there’s been some movement in this direction already. As of late October, a dozen countries and the European Union had signed on — the U.S. now joins that list.

Pirate fishing has long been a problem in Alaska. A prominent recent example was the Bangun Perkasa, an unflagged fishing boat interdicted off the Aleutian Islands in 2011 carrying 30 tons of illegally caught squid and a sizable population of rats. Like many pirate fishing vessels, the Bangun Perkasa had been driftnetting — sweeping the ocean with a miles-long net, catching and killing marine species indiscriminately and tossing back unmarketable fish and other sea creatures. As you can imagine, vessels fishing this way cause an incredible amount not only of economic damage to a fishery but also environmental damage to the ecosystem. And there are plenty of Bangun Perkasas that don’t get caught before offloading their catches.

The economic damage to Alaska doesn’t stop at the illegally caught fish that find their way to market. Since pirate fishing vessels are almost always unflagged, it falls to those who catch them — in the case of the Bangun Perkasa, the U.S. government — to deal with the vessels, their catch and their crew. After getting rid of the Bangun Perkasa’s squid, exterminating its rats, sending its crew members back to China and Indonesia and contracting out the scrapping of the derelict vessel, direct costs related to the vessel ran to more than a million dollars.

With those costs added to the $10 billion to $23 billion negative impact on fisheries worldwide from pirate fishing and coupled with the environmental devastation the vessels wreak, Alaska’s motivation to act is clear, and the state’s Congressional delegation did well by shepherding the pirate fishing bill to passage.

The bill in itself won’t solve the pirate fishing issue — there are clear financial incentives for the illegal fishing operations and governments more inclined to look the other way than the U.S. — but it applies a focus and pressure on the vessels that is an excellent place to start stemming the damage caused by such operations.

More in Opinion

Web
Have something to say?

Here’s how to add your voice to the conversation.

This image shows the site plan of the proposed Capital Civic Center. Thursday evening the city was given an update on the project’s concept design which is expected to cost up to $75 million and would include amenities like a theater, community hall, gallery, ballroom and business center. (City and Borough of Juneau)
Opinion: Keep an eye on the proposed civic center project

FTF will continue to monitor this issue and urge Juneau residents to do likewise.

Mist from Nugget Falls has a prism-like effect in September 2020. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Multiple vehicles line up at the entrance of Waste Management’s Capitol Disposal Landfill in Lemon Creek Monday morning. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
The absence of economic incentives to reduce waste

This week, Waste Management, the Texas based company that owns and operates… Continue reading

Over 200 people attended LunaFest (Courtesy Photo)
Opinion: JPCC owes a huge debt of gratitude to two LunaFest guest speakers

LunaFest 2023 was JPCC’s most successful fundraising event ever.

(Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Education funding is complicated and political

At a recent Alaska State Senate Education Committee hearing at the Capitol,… Continue reading

At Wednesday evening’s special Assembly meeting, the Assembly appropriated nearly $4 million toward funding a 5.5% wage increase for all CBJ employees along with a 5% increase to the employer health contribution. According to City Manager Rorie Watt, it doesn't necessarily fix a nearly two decade-long issue of employee retention concerns for the city. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)
Opinion: Assessment needs additional oversight

A win in dealing with City and Borough of Juneau is when… Continue reading

This photo shows the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: Deja vu for the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area

Three new alternatives don’t go far enough.

In this Nov. 29, 2018 photo, clouds swirl over Douglas Island. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Opinion: The Roadless Rule is a misnomer for what’s really happening in the Tongass

The Roadless Rule, as currently comprised with an exception provision, works.

Most Read