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Maritime Stewardship

Our nation’s waters are vital to its well-being and economy. The marine environment of the United States is one of the most valuable natural resources on Earth. It contains one-fifth of the world’s fishery resources. It is also a region of extraordinary recreation, energy and mineral resources, and transportation activities. Finally, it is an inseparable part of our national heritage and daily fabric of life in our coastal communities.

The Coast Guard’s role in protecting natural resources dates to the 1820s when Congress tasked the Revenue Marine to protect federal stocks of Florida live oak trees. These trees were deemed critical to the security of our young nation because they provided the best wood for shipbuilding.

As the exploitation of the Nation’s valuable marine resources— whales, fur bearing animals, and fish—increased, we were given the duty to protect those resources as well. Today, U.S. waters support commercial and recreational fisheries worth more than $30 billion annually, and we serve as the primary agency for at- sea fisheries enforcement. The Coast Guard, in coordination with other federal and state agencies, enforces marine resource management and protection regimes to preserve healthy stocks of fish and other living marine resources.

In 1976, Congress passed what is now known as the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. By creating an EEZ, this legislation extended our exclusive rights out to 200 nautical miles for fisheries and other natural resources. The Coast Guard patrols these areas to uphold U.S. sovereignty and protect precious resources. Today, international fisheries agreements have extended U.S. jurisdiction to waters beyond the EEZ.

Our stewardship role has expanded to include enforcing laws intended to protect the environment for the common good. As a result, we safeguard sensitive marine habitats, mammals, and endangered species. We enforce laws protecting our waters from the discharge of oil, hazardous substances, and non-indigenous invasive species.

To do all this, the Coast Guard conducts a wide range of activities. These include education and prevention; law enforcement; emergency response and containment; and disaster recovery. We also provide mission critical command and control support for forces responding to environmental disasters in the maritime domain.

Under the National Contingency Plan, Coast Guard COTPs are the pre-designated Federal On-Scene Coordinators (FOSC) for oil and hazardous substance incidents in all coastal and some inland areas. The FOSC is the President’s designated on-scene representative and, as such, is responsible for coordinating effective response operations among a diverse group of government and commercial entities in emotion-charged and often dangerous emergency situations.

While the health of our Nationís waters and marine resources is vital to our economy, our waterways are also an economic highway essential to the Nationís access to several billion tons of foreign and domestic freight annually. Waterborne trade generates tens of millions of jobs and contributes hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. gross national product each year. The U.S. MTS and its intermodal links support our economic prosperity, military strength, and national security. This complex system includes international and domestic passenger services, commercial and recreational fisheries, and recreational boating.

The Coast Guard carries out numerous port and waterways management tasks. We are responsible for providing a safe, efficient, and navigable waterway system to support domestic commerce, international trade, and military sealift requirements for national defense. We provide long and short-range aids to navigation; navigation schemes and standards; support for mapping and charting; tide, current, and pilotage information; vessel traffic services; domestic ice breaking to facilitate commerce; and technical assistance and advice.

Finally, we operate the Nation’s only Polar icebreakers. This enables our Service to project U.S. presence and protect national interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. These Polar vessels are key components in re-supplying U.S. Antarctic facilities. They support the research requirements of the National Science Foundation, and protect or advance other U.S. interests in the Polar Regions.

Living Marine Resources (fisheries law enforcement)

  • Project federal law enforcement presence over the entire U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, covering nearly 3.4 million square miles of ocean
  • Ensure compliance with fisheries and marine protected species regulations on domestic vessels
  • Prevent over-fishing, reduce mortality of protected species, and protect marine habitats by enforcing domestic fishing laws and regulations

Marine Environmental Protection

  • Stop unauthorized ocean dumping and regulate the discharge of oil, hazardous substances, and other shipboard wastes into U.S. and international waterways
  • Protect marine mammals
  • Regulate the introduction of invasive species into waterways
  • Respond to oil and hazardous substance accidents and reduce their impact on the marine environment
  • Develop environmental regulations and standards for domestic vessels and marine facilities

Other Law Enforcement

  • Enforce foreign fishing vessel laws
  • Patrol the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone boundary areas to reduce the threat of foreign poaching of U.S. fish stocks
  • Monitor compliance with international living marine resource regimes and international agreements
  • Deter and enforce efforts to eliminate fishing using large drift-nets, a method of high seas fishing considered to be one of the main obstacles to sustainable world fisheries and healthy ocean ecosystems

Aids to Navigation

  • Provide visual and electronic navigational aids, navigation information, and vessel traffic management services for U. S. navigable waterways
  • Ensure that bridges and causeways allow for the safe passage of waterborne commerce and other marine traffic

Ice Operations

  •  Keep critical Great Lakes and northeastern U.S. waterways open for commercial traffic, assist vessels transiting in ice-filled waterways, free vessels stuck in ice, and break ice dams to prevent ice related flooding
  • Provide the means in ice-laden waters to allow scientific research
  • Broadcast information on iceberg location to vessels transiting the North Atlantic between North America and Europe
Last Modified 3/20/2014