Operation Game Thief
Pirates in the Gulf of Mexico aren’t after gold treasure they’re after fish.
In the waters that border Mexico and Texas, fish poachers from Mexico sneak north into U.S. sovereign waters to illegally take species such as red snapper and sharks via long lines and gill nets.
The results have been devastating.
The preferred Mexican vessels are called “lanchas.” According to a Coast Guard study, these vessels take almost as many red snapper as recreational fishermen catch off Texas each year. They also target other valuable species, including grouper, sharks, billfish and tunas.
In one case on February 27, 2015, U.S. Coast Guard crews intercepted and seized a Mexican boat and crew that were fishing illegally and in possession of 133 red snapper totaling 445 pounds. According to the Coast Guard, Mexican boats make over 1,100 incursions into U.S. waters every year, illegally taking upward of 760,000 pounds of red snapper alone.
Gulf of Mexico fishermen understand just how stringent seasons and bag limits are for red snapper. If stolen red snapper weren’t damaging U.S. stocks, seasons and bag limits could be better for anglers. The resulting illegal fish catches also flood the market, putting U.S. commercial fishermen at a competitive disadvantage.
The raids on U.S. fish are part of a larger problem called Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing that accounts for as much as 20 percent of the world’s yearly fishing catch. Bill H.R. 774 , ready for the 114th Congress, increases penalties and sanctions against foreign IUU fishermen and prevents port entry, access, and supplies to foreign fishing vessels involved in illegal fishing.
The Coast Guard, Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association and National Fisheries Institute have all voiced heavy concerns about the practice. On Wednesday, April 8, at 3 p.m., Congressman Dave Jolly (R-St. Pete), Capt. Jason De La Cruz, owner of Wild Seafood located on Johns Pass, Capt. Mark Hubbard, owner of Hubbard’s Marina, Capt. Will Ward, CEO of Captain’s Finest Seafood and board member of the Gulf Fisherman’s Association, and Julio Fuentes, President of the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce will all speak at John’s Pass to discuss and highlight exactly how foreign illegal fishing vessels are impacting the Gulf of Mexico.