Operation North Pacific Guard: How Data and Analytics Helped the U.S. Coast Guard Crack Down on Illegal Fishing

By providing intelligence on suspicious behavior, Global Fishing Watch helped authorities run more effective patrols


The Issue

The northwest Pacific Ocean contains some of the most productive fishing grounds in the world, which also makes it a magnet for illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing. 

But patrolling such an enormous area presents its challenges. Even with the help of long-range surveillance planes and the latest intelligence, the chances of identifying and intercepting IUU fishers are slim.

But in the last few years, thanks to our support, those chances have increased dramatically.

Our Work

Since 2019, we have supported the U.S. Coast Guard and its Pacific Rim partner nations in an annual high seas law enforcement operation designed to detect and deter IUU fishing activity. Known as Operation North Pacific Guard, the yearly patrol endeavors to maintain rule-based order, protect legitimate economies and strengthen regional security. Using our data and analytics, the USCG has been able identify and locate suspicious vessels and target their patrols more effectively. 

In July and August 2019, we supported the operation carried out by the U.S. Coast Guard’s cutter MELLON. Compared with the previous year’s operation, the patrol boarded over three times as many vessels and uncovered nearly ten times as many violations.

And In 2021, we sent reports to the USCG cutter BERTHOLF nearly every day during its 105-day patrol.  This led to 29 vessels being investigated, which uncovered violations and other suspicious behavior in more than two-thirds of cases—the highest rate the patrol had ever achieved. These included evidence of prohibited gear, shark finning and undocumented retention of bycatch.

“The Pacific Ocean is a really big ocean and we’re trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack. Armed with the information and thoughtful analysis provided by Global Fishing Watch we are able to focus scarce resources on the right targets, in the right place, at the right time.”

USCG Rear Admiral Matthew Bell

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