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L.N. Schowengerdt, Jr.
Operational Law Enforcement Division
US Coast Guard Headquarters
Washington, D.C.


It is said that no fisheries have a longer history of international exploitation than the high seas fisheries of the Northwest Atlantic.

Despite international exploitation, the US had only entered into three international fisheries agreements by 1945. They restricted the catch of halibut, fur seals and whales, and are still in effect. The main effort by the US to reach conservation agreements began in 1949 with the signing of the International Convention for the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries (ICNAF) which attempted to regulate fisheries in the Atlantic, eventually through quota allocations, and in 1952 with the signing of the International Convention for the High Seas Fisheries of the North Pacific Ocean (INPFC). The ICNAF Convention was in place when the major fishing build-up off the US coast by large foreign fishing fleets came in the early 1960s. The result of the effort was the devastation of many stocks due to the failure of the Convention mechanism to effectively regulate and enforce quota allocations.

In April 1976, Congress yielded to pressure from scientists, commercial fishermen and the public. It passed the “Fisheries Conservation and Management Act” (MFCMA) which established management authority over marine resources in US coastal waters out to 200 miles. The limited measures of international flag State enforcement, provided for by ICNAF, the INPFC and other treaties were abruptly replaced by a management scheme which required vigorous enforcement by the Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS).

Before 1976 boardings of foreign fishing vessels depended mostly on cooperation and on limited jurisdiction over some fisheries regulated by agreements. In some cases boarding could be undertaken only with the permission of the foreign fishing vessel's master. Since 1976, boarding and inspection of foreign fishing vessels within 200 nautical miles has been by right.

In the first six months after passage of the MFCMA, foreign fishing vessel presence in American waters decreased from an average of 715 vessels a month to 471 vessels. The decrease is approximately 25 percent. In 1982 the average number of foreign fishing vessels was around 280 per month. Catch went from approximately two million tonnes in 1977 to an average of one and a half million tonnes through 1982. In 1977 depletion of many species of fish stocks was imminent. Today, most US fish stocks are recovering from over-exploitation.


By January of 1982, as a result of the MFCMA, there were 25 federal fishery management plans (FMP) in effect, 7 relating solely to foreign fishing, and 18 governing both domestic and foreign fishing. Approximately 65 such plans governing foreign and domestic fishing may be in effect within the next 2–5 years. Regulation of a fishery may only be imposed through an FMP. The plan describes the fishery, sets total allowable catches and prescribes regulatory measures to ensure the achievement of the plan's goals. Quota allocations as regulatory measures are implemented when fish stocks can only support a limited amount of fishing pressure and still maintain themselves. The limits on catch change depending on the estimated strength of the stocks.

The MFCMA requires strict accountability for quotas. Each nation is assigned an allocation in roundweight for each species as “directed species” or “incidental species”; “directed species” means a fishery conducted for the purpose of catching that species, “incidental species” means fish of any species other than directed species which are caught during a directed fishery. Permit fees and poundage fees are assessed for the amount of fish caught; incidental catch being generally more expensive per pound than the directed species. Under such a system there is a great incentive to under-report catches. First, since foreign fishing vessels can be prohibited from fishing once their national allocations are reached, particularly those of incidental catch, the master may try to under-report when his allocations diminish. In addition, since these incidental species may be very valuable, there is a greater propensity to underlog the small quota, “high-value” species and over-report the other. A proper comparison of logbooks to catch on-board is essential to establish these violations.

In January of 1983, a review of US fishery management plans in effect revealed six methods to regulate fisheries which are aimed at controlling fishing pressure. These can be separated into two groups: those regulating catch or “quotas” and those regulating “effort”. Sometimes both approaches are combined.

Quotas:a.Catch is limited annually, periodically, by trip or by area
b.Size/sex restrictions - certain fish due to size or sex must be returned to the sea
c.Prohibited species retention - certain species must be discarded
Effort:a.Closures - some areas are closed to fishing or to fishing for certain species or to fishing with certain gear
b.Seasons - certain species can only be caught during certain periods
c.Licensing - the number of permits issued is restricted

Each fishery management plan requires its own enforcement scheme. Management plans, no matter how well-conceived or scientifically justified, cannot achieve the intended conservation objectives without a vigorous enforcement effort which includes a comprehensive patrol, boarding and inspection programme, and judicious collection of catch and effort data. The Coast Guard and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) are jointly responsible for enforcement of the Act (FMCA). The fishery management and marine biology expertise of NMFS, combined with the general law enforcement and maritime operational capabilities of the Coast Guard, provide the key enforcement element which has made the Act's conservation programme successful where previous conservation regimes have failed.

In order to help the NMFS scientists to ascertain the status of the fisheries, the figures reported to the US from fishing logs of foreign and domestic vessels must be accurate. This is the primary goal in enforcing quota allocations. The remaining sections demonstrate how the Coast Guard determines the amount of fishery product on board to compare it to the weight logged by the foreign fishing vessel. (The logs for domestic vessels are different.) The discussion is limited to restricting catch by quotas.


Since quota allocations are in round weight, our first objective is to determine the amount of fish caught by a vessel. This is a three-part task. First, this involves estimating the number of frozen fish blocks in the holds of the vessel. Second, the boarding party determines an average block weight. Lastly, the catch which was not frozen whole has to be converted to round weight so as to determine the actual weight of all the catch when it was caught. This permits the boarding party then to compare the catch to the master's logs.


Taking a count block by block in most situations would take days. Many reasons such as weather, limited cargo handling room, time and hazards preclude such an enterprise. So unless a serious violation is suspected boarding parties will estimate the catch in the hold.

This task is done by measuring the length, width and breadth in terms of blocks or metres depending on whichever is easiest. When using metres the boarding officer will then compare his figures to those in the ship's plans. When using blocks, the boarding officer if necessary will determine the average block size and convert his estimated block dimensions into metres so as to compare his estimate to the ship's plans. Regardless of whether blocks or metres are used as a standard, the boarding officer will compare his estimate to the one provided by the master. Both the block and the metre methods are discussed in greater detail below.

The block method measures the length, depth and breadth of each hold using blocks as the measuring device. Multiplying these numbers results in block volume. For instance, a boarding party may find the hold to have 30 boxes across, 60 boxes in length, and 15 boxes for depth. The result is 27,000 boxes; but, unfortunately, holds are rarely rectangular or square. Thus the above computations require modification.

For instance, holds are frequently oddly shaped due to the shear of the hull. In the case of a hold which has a different width at the bottom than at the top, the simplest solution is to average the two - e.g., 31 blocks across the top and 29 blocks across the bottom. The average is 30.

Another problem in this estimating process is determining the void spaces. Generally the easiest approach is to calculate the avoid space in terms of blocks and deduct that number from the total hold count. In our example we estimate these spaces to take up to 100 blocks.

For stanchions and other space restricters, the boarding party also must make an equivalent block estimate. In this hypothetical case we can assume 10 stanchions which take up 3 blocks each. Therefore, we deduct 100 blocks for void spaces and 30 blocks for space reducers. We have 26,870 blocks in the hold.

There are situations where a block count is not possible or not reliable. Therefore, a second approach involving a volumetric analysis becomes necessary. This second methodology involves determining the hold volume by measuring the actual length, width and depth. Sometimes these measurements cannot be accurately assessed when the hold is full. Again the master generally knows his hold capacity and his statements can be supported by a design of the ship or other official documents. Void spaces, stanchions, and other unused space also need to be calculated and deducted. Lastly, a certain percentage (generally 2 percent) needs to be deducted from the overall volume due to gaps between boxes.

In our example we have determined from the ship's plans that the hold is 29 m wide, 100 m long and 10 m deep. By multiplying these figures we determine the hold size to be 29,000 cubic metres. We deduct 130 cubic metres for void spaces and 2 percent for gaps. We end up with approximately 28,200 cubic metres.

Once having determined the volume of the hold, the average volume of a block is calculated. The average has frequently been one cubic metre. So, in this situation, the boarding officers conclude there are 28,200 blocks.


The second step in this process is to determine the average weight per block. A random sampling of 15–20 blocks are weighed which in turn are added, then divided, by the number of the sampling blocks to arrive at an average block weight. The boarding officers choose samples from as diverse an area as possible. At least 20 blocks of each type of fish caught are weighed using a set of government scales that have been tested prior to boarding. These scales additionally should be tested against the foreign fishing vessel's scales for any gross errors. In our hypothetical case the average block weight is 22 kg.

In the computation of the average block such things as packaging and water weight must also be calculated. As a general practice not more than 5 percent of the block weight should be deducted. Thus, in our example, we can reduce our average block weight from 22 kg to 20 kg by subtracting 1 kg as water weight and 1 kg for packaging.

The number of blocks in one hold are multiplied by the average block weight. Taking 20 kg times 23,200 blocks we have 46,400 kg or 46.4 tonnes.


Whether the block or volumetric analysis is used, we have to convert the 46.4 tonnes of processed fish to the actual round weight of the fish when it was caught to compare it with required logs and reports. In order to do this we use what is called the product recovery rate (PRR). In simple terms, if a fish weighs 1 kg when processed but 2 kg when caught, we say the product recovery is 50 percent. PRR is defined as product weight divided by round weight expressed as a percentage. In our example 46.4 tonnes of processed fish with a PRR of 70 percent tell us that 66 tonnes of fish were caught.

The percentage ratio is dependent upon many factors. The type and size of fish, the processing method (fillets, meal, whole, headed and gutted), the season of the year and catch composition are all factors to be taken into account. In the surimi fisheries, additives must also be accounted for.

The boarding party generally uses a PRR developed by the NMFS. The fishing vessel determines its own or uses one provided by the foreign fishing vessels' fleet command. In the case of controversy, the PRR can be determined by observing a haul-back and weighing a sampling of fish before and after processing. Determining PRR by observing the processing of a single haul-back does not necessarily provide a definitive answer for all fish on board but, depending on the fishery, will at least solve the dispute.

The boarding officer so far has assessed the capacity of holds in terms of fish frozen whole, or after being headed and gutted, or filleted or converted to some other product. The inspection is complicated when it becomes necessary to assess fish that are processed into fish meal. Fish meal is the product of cooking and drying out the undesirable fish and fish parts. These undesirable fish include fish too small for processing, fish torn up by the fishing gear and fish caught as incidental to the main catch but not otherwise used. Generally, fish meal weighs only 10 percent of the original weight of the product - i.e., 20,000 kg of fish will weigh 2,000 kg of fish meal.

The boarding party will determine the amount of fish meal aboard through a volumetric analysis. If 2,000 kg are aboard, then we may assume this represents 20,000 kg of a combination of whole fish and fish parts. From here it becomes a matter of elimination. If we determine there is 60,000 kg of one species of fish in the hold which had a PRR of 60 percent, when we may assume that there was 40,000 kg of by-product which, once converted to fish meal, will weigh 4,000 kg. Obviously, accounting for the fish meal requires reviewing the logs carefully and ascertaining the catch on board accurately. Any type of violation involving fish meal will be very difficult to support due to the very nature of the product.


The boarding party, carrying a notebook and pencil, calculator, 50 kg spring scales, 25 m tape measures, and warm clothing can effectively assess the catch on board. However, it is not uncommon to encounter problems as discussed below.

For instance:

  1. The Coast Guard's scales and Master's scales do not agree.

  2. Hold capacity determined by the boarding officer and the fishing master is false, due to unreported and unobservable void space.

  3. The PRR assessed by the Coast Guard and the Master are significantly different.

When serious problems cannot be solved, the Coast Guard may require the Master to take his ship into port where an actual inventory can be taken. This solution can prove very costly to everyone and should be avoided whenever possible.

The taking of an inventory at sea cannot be as accurate as one taken ashore and so the boarding party frequently has to rely on some fundamental assumptions. Sometimes the boarding officer must assume that certain holds contain only certain processed species. It is impossible to locate 5 blocks containing frozen lobster (a prohibited species) among 30,000 blocks without removing all of the blocks.

The boarding party must use its discretion. Generally, the degree of inspection depends on the smoothness of the ship's operation. A ship that has been in compliance with the regulations for several years and whose operations are professional will probably receive a shorter inspection. A vessel which an observer or outside source reports as violating the law may be required to move some of her frozen blocks to another hold so that a more thorough inspection can be made.

Where difficulties exist in identifying types of fish, either processed or whole, the boarding party consults a fish guide-book or turns to the Master for assistance. In additon, if a NMFS observer is assigned to the fishing vessel, his or her expertise can be very useful in identifying fish. The boarding officers must be alert for fish that is incorrectly labelled, especially in the case of small quota species in mixed fisheries.


Under the MFCMA, foreign fishing vessels are required to maintain logs and make periodic reports to the NMFS. The required logs include a Daily Cumulative Catch Log (DCCL), a Communications Log, and a Transfer Log. Logs are required to be kept in English except the transfer log. The required reports include a Weekly Catch Report, a Weekly Report of Receipts of US Harvested Catch, and a Weekly Report of Marine Mammal Incidental Catch. Additionally, most fisheries use the following logs: Navigation Log, Fishing Log, Processing Log and Reefer Log. There are three objectives in reviewing these logs and reports: to check for consistency between logs, to check for consistency between logs and reports, and to check for consistency between logs and actual catch.


For the purpose of enforcing quota regulations, we are concerned with the logs described below:

  1. Daily Cumulative Catch Log (DCCL): This is the most important log and is thoroughly checked for internal accuracy. The DCCL must record the total catch the vessel has taken in all areas during the year. This means that the product off-loaded in the ship's homeport or elsewhere, the product transferred to other vessels, the product discarded, and the product on board should equal the total in the DCCL. This total is expressed in round weight. If all the product off-loaded or discarded is subtracted from the DCCL total, the boarding officer can determine the total on board. The log must include the following information:

    1. Fishing area
    2. Date of catch (GMT)
    3. Amount caught in whole weight before processing
    4. Disposition of catch: human consumption, fish meal, discard
    5. Cumulative catch for each species for the year
    6. Prohibited species caught

  2. Transfer Log: This log records information on transfers of fishery products to any other vessel. The only means of verifying the contents is to check with the vessel receiving the transfer. The US does not currently require prior notification of a transfer, but the Coast Guard makes every attempt to observe transfers. The log must include the following information:

    1. Date, time and position of transfer
    2. Name, species code and amount of each product transferred
    3. The vessel to which the transfer was made


Reports are reviewed mainly to check for uniformity with the DCCL Log. These reports are required for each nation, for each vessel, on a weekly basis - Sunday through Saturday GMT, and record each week's activity.

  1. Weekly Catch Report: This report contains the catch information from the DCCL for the appropriate week. It also includes catch of prohibited species.

  2. Weekly Report of Receipts US Harvested Catch: This report is similar to the Weekly Catch Report and is required for vessels engaged in joint ventures. Joint venture permits normally require foreign vessels to fill out NMFS supplied forms similar to a DCCL for fish received from US vessels.

  3. Weekly Report of Marine Mammal Incidental Catch: This report gives the position, species, number and condition of marine mammals caught incidental to fishing.


There are other logs and reports which can be used to detect potential violations. Standard marine practice and flag State requirements require logs and reports which can be used to verify required information and determine hold contents. Any log, record or other document is subject to inspection under the US Law, whether or not it is a required record.

  1. Navigation Logs: Are generally similar in form and content to Coast Guard ship's logs and man contain useful information on:

    1. Positions at specific times
    2. Activity of the vessel (i.e., trawling, transferring, transiting)
    3. Identification of other vessels in transfer operations
    4. Daily production

  2. Trawl or Fishing Logs: Are kept by almost all vessels and are the second most important source of information for our purposes, and should be carefully cross-checked with the DCCL. Information includes:

    1. Time and position of setting and hauling each trawl or set
    2. Catch by species and amount
    3. Verification of activity
    4. Water depth and sometimes temperature to verify position and pelagic/bottom trawling
    5. Transfer information

  3. Processing Logs: Processing logs come in many forms, from scraps of paper to bound ledgers. They frequently consist of a running tally of product that is flash-frozen and stowed in the hold. Species may or may not be identified and transfers may or may not be taken into account. Many crews are reluctant to admit having a processing log, although economic considerations and transfer requirements would seem to indicate a strong need for this information. When the log is found, the amount of fish caught can be determined by:

    1. Determining average frozen block weight for each species/product
    2. Deducting not more than 5 percent of total weight for water and average weight of packaging
    3. Multiplying the revised block weight by the number of blocks of each species products for product weight.

  4. Reefer Logs: Reefer logs are engineering logs, similar to Coast Guard engineering logs. They list equipment running times and dates run. Determining how often the fish freezers are run and their capacity can give a close approximation of the amount of product on board. A running block count may also appear in the logs.


The above logs and records are individually important to the boarding party. If the boarding party is checking to see that the catch has been properly recorded, it will generally inspect the DCCL and trawl logs very carefully. If the boarding party is checking to ensure that the vessel has properly reported its catch, it will inspect the weekly catch report and communications logs and compare these to the DCCL and trawl logs. If the boarding party suspects any type of violation it will attempt to locate the ship's processing logs so as to compare them with the DCCL, trawl logs, weekly catch report and the actual catch on board as estimated by the boarding party. If an NMFS Observer is assigned to the fishing vessel, he or she will generally assist the boarding party in the above.

Obvious violations, including failure to record incidental catch, failure to convert processed fish to found weight or failure to maintain logs occur less frequently. Violations have become more complex in recent years. Even though the ship's logs may reflect the boarding party's assessed catch, this is not conclusive that the ship is not under-logging. The following are two hypothetical examples which have similarities to recent violations.

  1. Under-logging: Certain species are more valuable either because of the poundage fee or because the country has used almost all of its allocation. For instance, during a routine boarding, the Master of a vessel claimed to have caught 5 tonnes of species, “X”, within the past 24 hours. The Master had not yet recorded this catch (DCCL is only required to be current within 24 hours). The boarding party had four reasons to suspect the ship was intentionally under-logging.

    First, it knew that such a large catch of “X” was unlikely in one day. This suspicion was verified by calling other fishing vessels in the vicinity and comparing catches. No vessel had caught more than 1 tonne of “X” within the last 24 hours. Second, the country's allocation of this species had almost been reached. Vessels from that country would no longer be able to fish once having caught their allocation. Therefore there was a motive to under-log. Third, the processing plant showed no signs of having processed “X” within at least 4–6 hours. Lastly, species “X” is only supposed to be caught as incidental catch. The poundage fee for incidental catch is generally higher than the poundage fee for directed fisheries. The vessel was found to have grossly under-logged.

  2. Species Manipulation: This involves consistently under-logging one species and over-logging another species. For instance, a vessel claimed to have caught 20 tonnes of “W”, 30 tonnes of “X”, 40 tonnes of “Y”, and 50 tonnes of “Z”. There was 140 tonnes aboard. The boarding party had three reasons to believe the ship was under-logging species “W” and “X”, and over-logging species “Y” and “Z”. First, it found that species “W” was being stored and dispersed randomly. Second, the Master was using a PRR which the boarding officer believed to be too high for “W” and “X”. Third, the boarding party found the unit production log which was being kept by the first mate. Since the production log was kept by block count, the boarding party had to convert the blocks into the weight of the actual weight. The unit production was found to be significantly different than the DCCL. In summary, the vessel had actually caught 30 tonnes of “W”, 40 tonnes of “X”, 30 tonnes of “Y” and 40 tonnes of “Z”, and was seized for species manipulation.


The enforcement of quota regulations at sea can be effective. A system of logs and records and well-trained boarding officers is required. As boarding officers become more proficient, violations will become more complex as sophisticated methods for cheating develop. Mixed fisheries quota systems are more difficult to successfully regulate than single species and those with low by-catch.

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