Coast Guard Commits to Better Communication to Protect Commercial Fleet in Bering Sea EEZ

Coast Guard officials say they are taking steps to better protect American fishermen legally harvesting in the exclusive economic zone of the Bering Sea off the coastline of Alaska from any future harassment by Russian vessels engaged in war games in their fishing grounds.

Admiral Charles Ray, vice commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard told the U.S. Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Security this past week that the Coast Guard will be having bi-weekly meetings with fishing industry groups, in particular the At-Sea Processors Association, in a persistent effort on the part of the Coast Guard to keep the fleet informed. The testimony during the Senate subcommittee hearing was prompted by a late summer incident in which commercial fishermen legally harvesting in the Bering Sea EEZ felt threatened by Russian vessels engaged in war games.

Subcommittee chair Sen. Dan Sullivan noted that Russia has opened 16 deep-water ports, 14 airfields, built Arctic military basses and formed a new northern Arctic command. “Russian provocation has only increased,” said Sullivan. “Without persistent U.S. presence in the Arctic, we risk leaving an opening for these types of aggressive actions to continue.”

The subcommittee also heard from Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-Sea Processors Association. Madsen told the subcommittee “that in any future incident such as this, U.S. authorities must be far more active in safeguarding our sovereign fishing rights.”

Madsen said that in the aftermath of the incident, the At-Sea Processors learned that the confrontations were related to a major Russian military exercise of which the government received notice, yet nothing about the exercise was communicated to the fishing fleet.

She also said that this kind of harassment simply cannot be allowed to become a new normal.

“Our sovereign right to legally fish within the U.S. EEZ must be protected,” she said.

From our vantage point, a robust U.S. military presence to protect U.S. interests in the region is simply non-negotiable.”