Lookouts Of The Last Frontier
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class William Colclough
August 24, 2018
In the Bering Sea, the middle of nowhere is everywhere. There is
no internet or cell service for a thousand miles. Atka, Adak and
Attu are some areas on the chart that live up to their name as
remote outposts on a distant planet. A rocket can blast to the next
galaxy before a mariner catches sight of an island in The Last
Frontier. You’re not in space. You’re on an Alaskan patrol.
The Coast Guard Cutter Mellon, homeported in Seattle, and its 180
crew members embark every year on their Alaskan patrol from Dutch
Harbor, Alaska, the nation’s top fishing port. The Mellon and its
crew divide their patrols between the Pacific Ocean adjacent to
Mexico and Guatemala. In the Eastern Pacific offshore South America
the crew interdicts drug smugglers in the Joint Interagency Task
Force – South area of responsibility.
The USCGC Mellon (WHEC 717) and
crew patrol along the Maritime Boundary Line between the
U.S. and Russia in the Bering Sea, Alaska on May 25, 2018.
The crew kept a lookout for illegal encroachments of the
U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone by foreign fishing vessels.
(U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class William
In the Bering Sea, the Mellon crew keeps a lookout for mariners
in distress and enforces laws and regulations related to the
preservation of U.S. fisheries stocks. Markets fluctuate every hour,
but it’s the pollock stocks that affect the dinner tables and
negotiating tables of the nations in the East and the West.
“Pollock is the big one – the major fishery in the Bering Sea.
Pollock and Pacific Cod are two of the biggest fish types in the
world that you’ll find in any grocery store around the globe,” said
Lt. Gregory Mitchell, operations officer for the Mellon. “Working
together with our partners is vital to ensuring the sustainability
of those fish stocks.”
Located in the Aleutian Basin of the
central Bering Sea, the Donut Hole was once the sweet spot for
pollock fishing. The void left from overfishing in the nearly
400-mile wide hole prompted the U.S. to halt the use of driftnets.
South of the Maritime Boundary Line the U.S. and Russian Economic
Exclusion Zones separate to form an area of international water
known as the Donut Hole.
Along the Maritime Boundary Line and
within the Donut Hole, illegal, unregulated and unreported fisheries
are the mission for Mellon. Focusing on many different types of
fishing vessels and ensuring those vessels are not crossing into the
U.S. Economic Exclusion Zone to fish, the culprits of violations
from another nation or type of fishing gear being utilized can range
far and wide.
North of the Donut Hole is where an
international fishing rodeo ramps up in the Bering Sea. Along the
100 Fathom Curve, a depth of water where the shelf slopes down to
the abyss, interactions between the cold, nutrient-rich waters of
the Bering Sea mix with rising water and heat from the sun to create
a plume of nutrients.
“The Bering Sea is a well-known area
for its fish stocks, for the amount of biomass that is located
there, and a lot of people want in on the taking for it,” said
To prevent illegal encroachment of the U.S.
Exclusive Economic Zone by foreign fishing vessels, the Mellon
patrols about 100 miles of the Maritime Boundary Line along with the
Russia Border Guard during Operation Bering Shield. Mellon boarding
teams often come in contact with Russian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese,
Taiwanese, and Indian Ocean nation vessels fishing for pollock.
The Mellon also monitors fishing fleets for illegal oil spills,
oil discharges or other hazardous material releases. The area of
heaviest foreign fishing vessel activity is along the MBL north of
the central Bering Sea. A large number of Russian fishing vessels
will spread out from the MBL westward along the 100 fathom curve
toward the Russian coast.
Petty Officer 3rd Class Cameron
Popeck, a boarding team coxswain for the USCGC Mellon (WHEC
717), approaches the fishing vessel Polar Star to deploy a
boarding team to enforce laws and regulations related to
U.S. fisheries in the Bering Sea on May 30, 2018. The Mellon
crew conducted the commercial fishing vessel boarding during
an Alaskan patrol. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer
1st Class William Colclough)
From time to time foreign fishing vessels cross the line in
pursuit of their catch. When they do, the Mellon is there ...
supported by an embarked MH-65 helicopter crew from Coast Guard Air
Station Kodiak to take enforcement action. Further south along the
Alaskan peninsula, the Mellon enforces regulations for the National
Marine Fisheries Service to protect domestic fish stocks.
a result of the Coast Guard and its partners' efforts, sightings of
fishing vessels illegally fishing in U.S waters have declined. The
number of vessels spotted or seized since 2010 can now be counted on
“The numbers for Alaskan fisheries as a whole for
crab, pollock, Pacific Cod, halibut, Black Cod - all of it - is
valued at about $6 billion, so it’s a very substantial amount of
money,” said Mitchell. “It is a massive food supply for the U.S. and
the globe to some degree. It makes up a majority of seafood produce
at the grocery stores today.”
The Mellon crew bears a legacy
of protecting those at sea, the resources in the sea, and the sea
itself in Alaska. In 1974, the Mellon played a key role in the
rescue of crew members who survived an explosion, fire and eventual
sinking of the Italian supertanker Giovanna Lollihghetti.
midnight Oct. 4, 1980, a fire broke out in the engine room of the
427-foot cruiser liner Prisendam 120 miles south of Yakutat in the
Gulf of Alaska. On patrol near Vancouver, British Columbia, at the
time, the Mellon diverted to assist the Prisendam that was 632
nautical miles away. The Mellon, along with the Cutter Boutwell and
the 1000-foot supertanker Williamsburgh, recovered all passengers
and crew safely from the Prisendam’s lifeboats.
a half century of service to the nation, it’s worth noting the
Mellon was among the first American vessels to use jet engines for
propulsion. The Mellon crew will need those turbines for the next
Alaskan patrol to keep a lookout on The Last Frontier.
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