The U.S. Coast Guard intercepted three Chinese vessels Friday suspected of illegal high-seas drift-net fishing 400 miles east of Hokkaido, Japan, according to a 17th Coast Guard District news release.

A drift net is capable of large catches of fish and other marine life by means of suspension in open water.

The Coast Guard cutter Boutwell, with a Fisheries Law Enforcement Command officer from China on board, stopped the Lu Rong Yu 2659, 2660 and 6105 after an HH-65 helicopter, deployed with the U.S. ship from Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point, Hawaii, identified the three as possible high-seas drift-net fishing vessels.

The joint U.S.-China boarding team was told by the master of one vessel that it had about 5 ½ miles of nets on board, the release said. The Boutwell transferred custody of the three vessels to the Coast Guard cutter Midgett, which was scheduled to hand them over to the Chinese FLEC on Saturday. Boutwell and Midgett are based in Alameda, Calif., and Seattle, respectively. Both cutters operate under the 17th Coast Guard District.

“The presence of a Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command ship rider on board Boutwell expedited the boarding and seizure process, basically allowing the Chinese to enforce Chinese law on a Chinese vessel,” Capt. Michael Neussl, chief of staff for the 17th Coast Guard District in Juneau, Alaska, said.

The United States, Japan, Canada, Russia, South Korea and China are part of the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum, which was developed to fight illegal fishing and increase international maritime safety and security, according to the release. As part of that mission, the Coast Guard regularly participates in international cooperative efforts against high-seas drift-net fishing.

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