A United States coastguard vessel deployed off Alaska has pursued a suspected illegal driftnetter across the Pacific, apparently ultimately boarding the offending ship off the coast of Japan.

“I would call this fishing piracy that is going on,” Coast Guard commandant Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr said in Kodiak, Alaska this week. “They put eight miles of net out there and collect everything that flows through it.”

PHOTOS: Whole Foods Seafood Ban: Meet the Fish

According to the Associated Press, the fishing vessel is suspected of having illegally caught at least 40 tons of fish. The Coast Guard has revealed few details, including the exact timing of the operation, citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. However, Papp did state that the vessel was unregistered and was carrying Chinese crew, who could be either handed over to China for prosecution or repatriated to the United States.

Driftnets are panels of floating gill nets that can reach many miles in length, and which have long been excoriated for the indiscriminate nature of their catch, which can include non-target fish, seabirds, sea turtles and marine mammals. Because of these concerns, the United Nations General Assembly voted in 1991 to establish a global moratorium on large-scale high seas driftnets, which came into effect the following year. However, illegal driftnet fishing continues, as this latest incident underlines.


Coast Guard Cutter off San Diego (Corbis)

California sea lions hang trapped in a gill net off the coast of Baja California, Mexico in the Pacific Ocean. (Richard Herrmann, SeaPics.com/PEW)