ASTORIA, Ore. (AP) — The C-130 Hercules motored north along the Washington state coastline in the wee hours of a frigid New Year’s Day. Thousands of feet below, yellow halogen lights marked boats in the Dungeness crab fleet.
The U.S. Coast Guard flew the cargo plane from a base in Sacramento, Calif., to the Astoria Regional Airport to help fisheries enforcement managers make sure crabbers are following the rules. The Coast Guard had helicopters out performing similar patrols.
The plane turned off all but its navigation lights to be stealthier. Petty Officer 3rd Class Shannon Fieste, an aviation maintenance technician on the C-130, fingered the controls of an infrared and night-vision camera attached to the plane. She zoomed in and out from boat to boat, checking for fishermen who might have dropped their crab pots before the 8 a.m. opening of fishing.
Next to Fieste sat Oregon State Trooper Trygve Klepp, a rider along with Todd Dielman, a wildlife officer with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Crabbing is state-regulated, with the Coast Guard enforcing safety on the water.
The Dungeness crab fishery is one of the most valuable in the region, with more than $50 million made off the Oregon Coast in 2014, and more than $60 million off of Washington. An average of 10 million pounds of Dungeness crab is caught off of Oregon each year, with about 350 Oregon-based vessels partaking in the fishery, according to the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission.
Along with boats dropping pots early, Dielman and Klepp are looking for fishermen who carry too many. Boats can take out another boat barging their gear, but only up to 250 extra pots. Dielman said the departments keep a list of known offenders.