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, like hundreds of candles floating in the blackness, readying to drop the crab pots stacked on their sterns.

The U.S. Coast Guard flew the cargo plane from a base in Sacramento, California, to the Astoria Regional Airport Friday 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.

“It looks like the gear is all on board,” she says, marking another vessel, stacked high with crab pots, as non-suspicious before quickly moving onto the next.

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