Blue moon brings blue lights

The Coast Guard Cutter Diligence, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, N.C., conducts a patrol in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen

The Coast Guard Cutter Diligence, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, N.C., conducts a patrol in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nick Ameen

Written by Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Saunders

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Diligence, a 210-foot medium endurance cutter homeported in Wilmington, N.C., conducted nighttime boardings of pelagic longline vessels during the weekend of August 31st, the first blue moon since March 2010.

This effort was scheduled during a blue moon, the second full moon of the month, as many fishermen believe the fishing is better during this time. The operation aimed to ensure compliance with the Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan.

The plan was implemented by the National Marine Fisheries Service in May 2009 to reduce the number of marine mammal deaths associated with pelagic longline fisheries in the mid-Atlantic Bight, which extends from waters off the coast of North Carolina to Massachusetts.

Coast Guard personnel realized the impact that the implementation of this plan could have within the mid-Atlantic region and tasked the crew of the Diligence with conducting the first of this type of operation.

Pelagic longline fishermen use a horizontal mainline with hundreds of hooks to catch swordfish, tuna and shark. Occasionally, smaller marine mammals take the same bait and are caught.

“By keeping the longlines 23 miles or less, fishermen have more time to react to a hooked marine mammal,” said Lt. Cmdr. Kevin Saunders, a living marine resources officer with the Coast Guard’s 5th District. “This measure helps to reduce marine mammal fatalities resulting from longline fishing.”

The Diligence’s crew conducted boardings of fishing vessels throughout the night to ensure fishermen were in compliance with federal regulations governing longline length and marine mammal release instructions.

“I believe the boarding was mutually beneficial for the boarding team and fishing vessels,” said Ens. David Frost, a boarding officer aboard the Diligence. “Both shared knowledge of the associated regulations of the Atlantic Pelagic Longline Take Reduction Plan and fishing tactics of longline fishermen in the area.”

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