Russian Warships Harassed American Fishermen Near Alaska, Costing Them $1 Million in Lost Fishing Catches

From Popular Mechanics

  • American fishing boats in the Bering Sea ran into ships of the Russian Navy back in August.

  • The Russians ordered the American boats to leave, costing at least a million dollars in lost fishing catches.

  • The U.S. Coast Guard, agreeing the exercise was legal, told the fishermen to obey the Russian Navy's instructions.

Several American fishing boats operating in the Bering Sea recently encountered something considerably more powerful than a school of pollock: the Russian Navy.

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The fishermen were warned to leave the area and were surprised when the U.S. Coast Guard told them to comply with warnings issued by the Russian warships. The exercise reportedly featured an amphibious ship, a missile cruiser, and a cruise missile-firing submarine.

According to the New York Times, the encounter took place on August 27 in the Bering Sea, which is the only place in the world where U.S. and Russian territory are adjacent to each other, and where the two countries are at their closest (only 55 miles apart). International law says each country can claim up to 12 miles from shore as its exclusive territorial waters.

Part of Russia's “Ocean Shield” exercises, however, took place in America’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a 200-nautical mile strip extending from shoreline where the U.S. can claim exclusive economic development rights. Somewhat ironically, foreign military forces can enter an EEZ, but not a fishing boat intent on trawling for fish.

Russian military forces reportedly barked orders for the fishing boats to leave the area, citing an impending missile launch. When the fishermen contacted the U.S. Coast Guard, the service said, “Just do what they say.”

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The exercise, which involved 40 Russian Navy ships and 50 planes, rankled the American fishing boat captains. At least one fisherman reported more than $1 million in probable losses due to the exercise. The fishermen appeared blindsided by the Russians, though Moscow reportedly warned of the impending exercise through the HYDROPAC (“Hydrographic Pacific”) system. According to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council:

HYDROPAC are navigational warnings that are issued regularly and contain information about persons in distress, or objects and events that pose an immediate hazard to navigation. HYDROPAC is one of five types of navigation warnings that are categorized by their location. These maritime security alerts and advisories are issued by the US Maritime Advisory System.

The U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency distributes a weekly Notice to Mariners email to subscribers, warning them of such alerts and advisories. Fishermen and landlubbers can sign up for it here.

Military exercises are dangerous places for civilian vessels. Back in May, an Iranian warship accidentally sank a fellow Iranian warship with an anti-ship missile. Even outside of exercises, things happen: In 2001, the U.S. Navy attack submarine USS Greenville accidentally rammed into a Japanese fisheries research vessel, killing nine. And in 2015, a Royal Navy submarine ran into the nets of a fishing trawler in the Irish Sea, nearly dragging the small boat underwater.

According to the Moscow Times, the Russian Navy exercises included missile firing exercises from the guided missile cruiser Varyag and the guided missile submarine Omsk.

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