Guardians of the Sea: Examining Coast Guard Efforts in Drug Enforcement, Illegal Migration, and IUU Fishing
2167 Rayburn House Office Building
This is a hearing of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.
Opening remarks, as prepared, of Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Daniel Webster (R-FL) from today’s hearing, entitled “Guardians of the Sea: Examining Coast Guard Efforts in Drug Enforcement, Illegal Migration, and IUU Fishing”:
We meet today to examine the Coast Guard’s law enforcement missions, focusing on the Service’s counter drug and migrant efforts, and its work to limit illegal, unreported, and unregulated, or IUU, fishing.
I’d like to welcome our distinguished witnesses joining us today – Rear Admiral Jo-Ann Burdian, Assistant Commandant for Response Policy at the U.S. Coast Guard; Heather MacLeod, Director, Homeland Security and Justice at the Government Accountability Office; Aaron Davenport, Associate Director, Infrastructure, Immigration, and Security Operations Program, at the RAND Corporation; and Caitlin Keating-Bitonti, Natural Resources Policy Analyst at the Congressional Research Service.
The Coast Guard is our nation’s premier maritime law enforcement agency and is actively engaged in countering illicit maritime activity. This includes stopping the flow of illegal drugs to our shores, interdicting illegal maritime migration, and protecting the environment through efforts to curb illegal fishing.
Illicit maritime activity threatens our nation’s health, security, and industries.
As drug traffickers seek to poison our communities, the Coast Guard’s accomplishments in stemming the tide of illegal drugs have been impressive. Over the last four fiscal years the Coast Guard intercepted and seized 888 metric tons of cocaine, worth approximately 25 billion dollars – that’s well more than the Service’s annual budget.
At the same time, the Coast Guard is addressing increasing levels of maritime migration to our shores – often in the form of makeshift vessels that are not seaworthy and threaten the lives of the occupants. 2023 was one of the deadliest years for illegal maritime migration.
In 2020, the Coast Guard declared that IUU fishing replaced piracy as the leading global maritime security threat. It harms the management of fish stocks and costs legal fishing operators tens of billions of dollars a year in revenue. This harm is exacerbated by the world’s biggest IUU offender – China. The Chinese Communist Party provides billions of dollars in subsidies to their distant-water fishing fleet to plunder the fishing stocks of other nations.
To combat illicit maritime activity, the Coast Guard works with partner nations and expands targeted intelligence to maximize enforcement actions. At the same time, these efforts often pit our nation’s Coast Guard against foreign forces, including China, which has the world’s largest coast guard fleet.
Despite its best efforts at these missions, the Coast Guard can only act on a fraction of the intelligence it receives.
The Service’s drug and migrant interdiction efforts are hindered first and foremost by a lack of resources – both due to a longstanding failure to make long-term sustained financial investments, and heightened more recently by manpower shortages broadly affecting the armed forces.
In the coming year, this problem will only increase as the Service is forced to lay up cutters that would otherwise be engaged in patrols because of a lack of Coast Guard guardians to man them.
An important part of this subcommittee’s work is to conduct oversight to better understand the Coast Guard’s capabilities, and to identify the causes for any mission gaps.
As we explore the Service’s law enforcement missions today, I look forward to learning what the Coast Guard will do to strengthen its capabilities.
To Rear Admiral Burdian, I want to emphasize that this hearing is an opportunity for you to tell us what resources the Coast Guard needs to accomplish its critical law enforcement missions. Advocating for its needs has not been one of the Coast Guard’s strengths, so today, I ask you to be candid.
I’d like to thank all our witnesses for joining us here today and look forward to a great discussion.