Fisheries law enforcement. Probably not the first mission you associate with the Coast Guard. But protecting commercial and recreational fisheries not only ensures sustainable fish stocks, it safeguards billions of dollars generated by the industry and preserves thousands of jobs for U.S. citizens.
While the living marine resources mission may not be the first one associated with America’s Coast Guard, protecting natural resources is an important mission. At the tip of the fisheries spear is Coast Guard Cutter Heron.
In less than a week’s time, Heron’s crew was responsible for five fisheries seizures, totaling more than 31,000 pounds of shrimp and netting a fair market value of more than $69,000. While it was truly a team effort for Heron, there was one shipmate the crew turned to for his expertise and guidance – Chief Petty Officer Foy Melendy.
It all began 80 miles south of Galveston, Texas. Heron’s watch officer set the crew into motion after detecting three radar contacts within a shrimp closure area. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department closes Gulf Coast shrimping in state waters allowing shrimp to grow to a more valuable size and to protect overfishing of the species. National Marine Fisheries Service, a division of NOAA, extends the Texas closure beyond state waters and out to 200 nautical miles.
With Melendy, a boatswain’s mate, as the boarding officer, all hands jumped into action. The boarding team geared up while the remaining crewmembers maintained cutter watches, continued tracking the vessels and began collecting evidence for case packages.
All three vessels were stopped, boarded and escorted back to port. After working close to 24 hours, Heron’s crew and the National Marine Fisheries Service seized most of the catch, which brought in a fair market value of more than $47,000. With a short turnaround time, the crew completed all three evidence packages and forwarded them to the fisheries service who will continue a formal investigation.
“It was only through great preparation by all hands aboard that accounted for this success,” said Melendy. “Through my six and half years in the Navy and 12 years in the Coast Guard I’ve never seen this level of teamwork and dedication, where so few people accomplish so much.”
But Heron wasn’t done showing what they were made of just yet. Melendy and Heron’s crew took a few well-deserved days off, but within hours after being back aboard later in the week, they crew was at it once again.
Heron detected two more shrimp vessels illegally fishing in closed waters. This time, the seizure consisted of nearly 15,000 pounds of shrimp, worth $22,000. Melendy was the boarding officer for the first three vessels, coached another boarding officer through the final two cases and stood watch during the terminations. Altogether Heron completed 11 commercial fishing vessel boardings, resulting in 62 safety and fisheries violations.
“After finding three boats in the middle of the night, to board and collect evidence on all of them, was a true display of stamina and Chief provided an example of dedication to the rest of the crew to follow,” said Chief Petty Officer Jimmy Clark, a crewmember aboard Heron. “Doing it again just a few days later, was evidence of how motivated this entire crew is to complete our missions.”
With close to 1,500 Gulf of Mexico shrimp moratorium permits issued to vessels spread throughout the region, the 8th Coast Guard District boasts five of the top seven fishing ports in the country, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total catch of U.S. commercial fishermen. Despite the daunting task to protect our nation’s natural resources, Heron’s crew continues to display the teamwork, commitment and expertise needed to do so.
“Working with our partners, like the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the Coast Guard will continue to enforce laws that protect and support the fishing industry,” said Capt. Ed Cubanski, incident management branch chief for the 8th Coast Guard District. “With a crew like Heron’s plying the gulf waters, the U.S. fisheries are in capable hands.”
(Co-authored by Lt. j.g. Brian Field, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Heron)