Three small, but very fast, Mexican fishing boats called “lanchas” were seized Aug. 30 in U.S. waters by multiple U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) law enforcement groups, confiscating about 3,000 pounds of illegally caught red snapper and sharks, reports the Corpus Christi, Texas USCG base.
In a press statement, the Coast Guard reported 440-pounds of sharks and 2,425-pounds of red snapper along with fishing gear, radios, and GPS devices were found on the three boats with 14 fishermen aboard.
The fishermen were detained and are scheduled to be transferred to border-enforcement agents for processing.
According to the USCG, a “lancha” is a fast Mexican fishing boat 20 to 30 feet long with a narrow beam, and a large outboard motor. Such boats can top 30 knots, and frequently are used to smuggle narcotics to the U.S. They’re also used to illegally catch fish in U.S. waters, then back into Mexico.
Such illegal catches of snapper and other species bring high dollars in Mexico. Often, they are sold back to U.S. markets where they command big prices in Texas and other locales.
Last year, National Public Radio (NPR) did an extensive broadcast on the troubling issue of Mexican boats illegally fishing in U.S. waters. NPR reported that the USCG only reported 9 illegal Mexican boats in 2010, but 148 boats were caught in 2020. The Coast Guard that year detained over 500 Mexican fishermen and confiscated nearly 75,000 pounds of fish and other marine life from them.
All the fishermen were released because of a Law of the Sea requiring anglers immediately be released once bail is made.
According to NPR, Coast Guard commanders, commercial fishermen, marine biologists and federal officials say the large-scale illegal harvesting of red snapper is doing great harm to the Gulf of Mexico. And the illegal fishing operations are working with drug cartels making the problem out of control.
“They’ll come into U.S. waters, they’ll fish, they’ll grab as much snapper as they can and they’ll go head back south before we can detect them,” USCG Lt. Cmdr. Dan Ippolitio, commanding officer of the South Padre Island station, explained to NPR in a 2021 interview. “The average catch they’ll have on board is 1,000 to 3,000 pounds of snapper,”
NPR reported that the homeport of the Mexican lancha fleet is Playa Bagdad, located about 9 miles south of the Rio Grande.
Gillnetting also is a serious problem with illegal Mexican fishing operations in U.S. waters. Texas charter boat captain Michael Walker told NPR in the 2021 interview that Mexican gill netters get spooked by the Coast Guard and run fast back to Mexican waters, but they leave their gill nets that keep catching and killing fish.
“I pulled one (gill net) up a few years ago,” said Walker. “It had about a dozen dead sailfish in it. I don’t know how many mackerel, little sharks, big sharks. It was about a mile long.”
NOAA has been after Mexico to stop illegal fishing operations in the U.S., especially snapper fishing, but to no avail.
A top and unnamed NOAA official, told NPR how frustrated the U.S. is by Mexico’s inaction.
“We’ve tried to figure out how to make them stop,” the NOAA official said. “We’ve tried plan A, B, C and D, and the Mexican government never did anything.”