On First Deployment, New Cutter Shows Coast Guard’s Evolving Role

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The newly-built national security cutter USCGC Stone has taken on an unusual tasking on her first cruise. Rather than chasing down drug-runners in the Caribbean, participating in high-seas rescues off Alaska or reinforcing the rule of law in the Western Pacific, Stone will deploy to the South Atlantic – a rarely-visited area for the agency – in order to counter IUU fishing activity. 

Stone got under way from Pascagoula, Mississippi on December 23, bound for a partnership and presence mission with the governments of Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Portugal. 

“IUU fishing threatens the health of fish stocks and adversely impacts those who follow global norms and national laws. This is a global issue, and IUU is a problem too big for any one nation,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “Stone’s patrol demonstrates our commitment to the established rules-based order while addressing IUU fishing wherever a Coast Guard cutter is deployed.”

Stone’s crew will work in partnership with several coastal states on the way south, including Argentina, where hundreds of Chinese industrial squid fishing vessels are now arriving from the Pacific. The Chinese squid fleet has a long history of run-ins with the Argentine military in the rich fishery between the Falklands and Santa Cruz Province – including an incident in 2016 that ended in the suspect vessel’s sinking. This season, Argentina’s ministry of defense has organized a maritime surveillance task group to monitor the fleet’s activities, but it does not expect to use force to repel incursions into its EEZ.

In September, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf helped the Ecuadorian government to monitor about 200 vessels from the Chinese squid fleet off the Galapagos. Reports indicate that the Chinese vessels transiting to Argentina include some of the same ships recently seen off Ecuador, Chile and Peru. 

The Coast Guard has begun to place more emphasis on countering illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing (IUU fishing) in waters far from American shores – part of its role in enforcing the rule of law, reinforcing global maritime security and promoting regional stability. As China is the world’s worst-scoring state for IUU fishing activity, according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, an effort to counter IUU fishing also counters Chinese “grey zone” maritime activity. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy have formally identified China as the “most pressing, long-term strategic threat” to American maritime interests.

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