Seafood industry officials representing the Pacific Northwest and Alaska say a robust U.S. military presence in the changing Arctic is critical to protecting U.S. fishing interests there.
“Our sovereign right to legally fish within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone must be protected, said Stephanie Madsen, executive director of the At-sea Processors Association in remarks prepared for a virtual congressional subcommittee hearing set for Dec. 8. At 10:30 a.m. Alaska standard time. All Commerce Committee hearings are webcast live on the committee website.
Madsen’s comments are to be delivered to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Subcommittee on Security meeting on U.S. Coast Guard capabilities in the Arctic, whose scheduled meeting of Sept. 22 was cancelled.
The hearing comes in the wake of encounters commercial fishing vessels had in late August with Russian military warships and warplanes in the Eastern Bering Sea that left fishing captains and their crews fearing for their physical safety. Such incidents said Madsen also gave rise to whether such incidents might become something of a “new normal” in the changing Arctic.
The fishing industry has for decades been able to operate safely, and with legal certainty in these waters, relying on the USA/USSR Maritime Boundary Agreement agreed to on June 1, 1990.
What, she asks, are U.S. policymakers and military planners doing to safeguard U.S. economic and security interests in this vital region?
In her prepared testimony Madsen describes at length incidents in which fishing vessel captains felt they had no choice but to abandon their fishing activities and vacate the area due to harassment from Russian military warships and aircraft.
Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, had similar thoughts.
“We really don’t like the Russian military telling us what we can and can’t do,” said Paine. The fleet would have appreciated advance notification from the U.S. Coast Guard that the Russian military had planned military exercises, as well as a U.S. military presence at the time, “to let us know they have our backs.” Paine said he also found the situation a bit scary to know that the Russians were putting so much energy into military exercises in areas where the U.S. fleet is fishing.
According to Sullivan, the National Geospatial-Intelligence agency issued an advance alert of navigational dangers in the Pacific Ocean that provided the coordinates, dates and times for this Russian exercise. Sullivan acknowledged that the information itself was very limited and that such alerts are not typically monitored by the US fishing fleet that operates in the area of the U.S. EZ included in the Russian exercise area.
In response to a question on whether US forces have the equipment, manpower and budget to provide a presence near the fishing fleet during Russian military exercises, Sullivan said the short answer is that not all of the services have what they need to survive and thrive in the Arctic environment though some are better than others.”