A U.S. Coast Guard admiral is hosting a Russian general this week in an effort to improve communications about policing the maritime border in the Bering Sea.
Rear Adm. Thomas J. Barrett, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District, extended an invitation to Lt. Gen. Nikolai Lisinsky and other senior military officers of the Russian Federal Border Service to visit Alaska. Although Lisinsky had been in his position only three weeks, he accepted. The speed of his acceptance demonstrated his grasp of the importance of the issues, Barrett said at a press briefing Wednesday afternoon.
Lisinsky commands the air, land and naval forces in Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula.
"This was a high priority of Admiral Barrett to initiate this kind of personal relationship, to improve cooperation," said Capt. Vince O'Shea of Coast Guard Fisheries Law Enforcement.
"We basically had a bad situation (of frequent incursions of fishing boats across the maritime border between the U.S. and Russia)," O'Shea said. "Because of that Adm. Barrett initiated a visit with his counterpart, to improve cooperation and communications."
In 1999, there were 90 intercepted illegal crossings of the border. There have been only 26 this year. In 1999, there were no seizures of foreign vessels. This year there have been six, with four cooperative boardings. These numbers prove to O'Shea that the push for cooperation begun in April, before the fishing season began, "is working."
The two chief issues under discussion are "protecting pollock and sovereignty," Barrett said. Because catch rates of pollock on the Russian side of the border are less than on the U.S. side, "It's the fish that drive the pressure on the boundary." The area of particular emphasis, Barrett said, is the 60 miles of border just north of what's called "the doughnut hole" an area of unregulated territory surrounded by U.S. and Russian waters.
Seventy percent of the world's total pollock harvest comes from this area of the Pacific. The U.S. harvest is worth $1 billion, Barrett said, much of it processed into boneless products such as surimi. Lisinsky said Russians process pollock so there is no waste. Even hearts and livers are used.
Lisinsky, his support staff of five and his air crew of six arrived in his own plane in Kodiak on Sunday. He and Barrett toured the border on a Coast Guard ship earlier in the week. On Wednesday, with the aid of three translators, he and Barrett discussed two main questions, he said: Conducting joint search-and-rescue operations in the North Pacific and, "probably more important," streamlining the adjudication process on both sides after vessels are seized.
Lisinsky said they discussed details of adjudication, from issuing fines for vessels that violate the border to pressing charges against captains and vessel owners.
"We are finding common ground," he said.
Lisinsky and Barrett flew to Anchorage this morning to meet with Coast Guard, Air Force and Army officials, tour military facilities, and sign documents on operational enforcement cooperation.