JUNEAU, Alaska — The U.S. Coast Guard is meeting Wednesday evening on Kodiak Island with a group of Russian Border Patrol officials.
The Russians are here to renew a treaty that provides for cooperation between the Coast Guard and Russian law enforcement in the Bering Sea and the eastern Pacific Ocean. The need for such cooperation has grown in recent years: with Arctic waters warming, 7,000 vessels now travel the Bering Sea each year.
Some of those vessels come to illegally harvest fish. Others are there for perfectly legal reasons, but can suddenly find themselves in trouble.
The cooperative agreement between the Coast Guard and the Border Patrol is meant to help enhance both law enforcement and safety. It's not a new thing, as the two governments have had protocols to work together on Arctic maritime policy for the past 17 years.
But it is proving fruitful. There have been instances where Border Patrol commanders on the open ocean have sought and gained the help of Coast Guard C-130 aircraft to track ships that were illegally pirating fish resources from the Bering Sea -- sometimes leading to the confiscation of illegal cargo.
The Coast Guard feels the treaty is a good one because Alaska's coastline is longer than the coastline of all Lower 48 states combined. And since the Bering Strait is only 53 miles wide at its narrowest point, it makes sense for the Russians and the Americans to cooperate.
The hope is that as Arctic waters continue to warm as a result of climate change, the cooperative agreement will both prevent pirate fishing in the Arctic and enhance sea safety.