By Matt Briscoe
Corpus Christi, Texas—Sunday’s detention of another Mexican commercial fishing vessel just off the southern Texas coast marks the 57th such interdiction by the United States Coast Guard since October of 2017.
This time authorities seized a total of 113 red snapper and two sharks. But with snapper regulations the topic of major discussions these days, the real concern for many Gulf of Mexico fishermen is in the numbers.
It is a known fact that state and federal agencies patrolling the Gulf of Mexico have been engaging in a high seas fish nabbing game with Mexican fishermen for several years. Agencies like the Coast Guard have seizing dozens of boats and tons of illegally caught fish.
For years, commercial fisherman in Texas viewed the Mexican lanchas annoyance, but with Sunday’s interdiction marking the fifty seventh such boat interdicted since the fiscal year began, it is obvious that these illegal fishermen from Mexico are becoming more and more of a problem for both recreational fishermen and commercial operations.
The United States Coast Guard and state authorities are doing what they can.
Illegal fishermen from Mexico are competing for the highly regulated local fish population and show little concern for catch limits or the types of fish that they kill while in search of red snapper or shark, which often bring high prices on the Mexican fish market. Reports indicate that much of their illegally taken fish crop ends up exported back across the border to U.S. consumers and that has officials at every level government taking notice.
It’s unclear exactly how many pounds of red snapper are taken illegally each year. However, a researcher with NOAA said on Tuesday that as much as 200,000 pounds or more in just red snapper alone may have been illegally harvested by Mexican boat crews. That number does not take into account any fish that domestic anglers may also have illegally taken.
Some reports have indicated that millions of dollars worth of red snapper have already been stolen from U.S. waters by Mexican fisherman illegally fishing in rose waters. NOAA's enforcement division says the next step could entail restrictions or an outright ban on imports of fish from Mexico. Such a move could prove costly for the Mexican fishing industry.
“Sure, these lancha boats are becoming a major problem”, says Jon Allen, a Freeport area commercial fisherman. However, Allen points out that the ethics and unsportsmanlike like conduct from domestic recreational fishermen are also to blame for the hot debate about fish populations, namely red snapper.
As for the lancha boats, officials say that they are working on more aggressive enforcement tactics and working with prosecutors to vigorously prosecute illegal fishing both foreign and domestic.
The Coast Guard says that if a person witnesses suspicious activity or illegal fishing in state waters (out to 9 miles offshore), they should contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s “Operation Game Thief” at 1-800-792-GAME (4263). For all suspicious activity or illegal fishing occurring in federal waters (out to 200 miles offshore), they suggest calling the U.S. Coast Guard at 361-939-0450.