Officials Spend Their Weekend Chasing Illegal Fishing Vessles Out Of Texas Waters
Matt Briscoe and Brady Chandler
The Southside Light
Original: April 21, 2019
Texas Game Wardens along with crews from the United States Coast Guard spent the last several days fighting an ongoing problem that is only getting worse. The problem? Mexican based commercial fishing vessels often known as “lanchas” that are coming up from places like Playa Bagdad and La Yegua. They cause an estimated millions of dollars in fisheries losses every year and the problem is getting worse by the day.
Over the holiday weekend, Wardens and Coast Guard officials chased a number of boats back into Mexico where they are finding safe harbor and limited prosecution by the Mexican government.
This most recent incident resulted in crews working through the night over the course of two days freeing multiple fish species including sharks and at least one sea turtle from Mexican long lines which can stretch several miles throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Commercial fishing in Mexico leads to big profits for Mexican fishermen. They often ignore fishing regulations, seasons and haul limits put in place by regulators and the problem only gets worse.
Oftentimes these sleek, fast and rickety fishing vessels cut their lines when they are detected by authorities, leaving their catches for dead. The highly sought after and controversial red snapper is a common fish that is caught by these illegal fishermen in their elusive boats.
Sometimes, they are caught by authorities but other times they get away. No wall, no boundary, no legislation will likely halt them—so, what can be done?
Some legislative experts are cautiously approaching the situation while members of the fishing community and law enforcement are being more aggressive in their wording. However, few have offered any real solution to the problem.
While the Coast Guard and Texas Game Wardens step up their patrols for these unauthorized fishermen, they can only do so much. In some cases, the captains and their crew are caught, moderately prosecuted and turned over to immigration enforcement for processing and deportation proceedings. But the risk is often worth the reward for these fishermen.
“The seafood market is a deeply competitive and often lucrative business,” says Buddy Parnell, a research biologist. “The profit margins can be massive.”
Parnell questions just how many hundreds to thousands of pounds worth of illegally caught seafood ends up on the plates of consumers each and every day.
“We have every reason to believe that American businesses plate thousands of pounds worth of this haul each year,” Parnell says. And while he says exact numbers are difficult to obtain, he believes that if there was not a market for reasonably priced Gulf seafood then there would not be such a problem.
“It’s kind of like a drug. If you kill the demand then you often kill the supply,” he says.
Parnell says that while some restaurants do solidly participate in legal and ethical supply practices, many do not. While more reputable establishments may subscribe to ethical fishing practices, it is often more moderately priced and smaller operations that he feels may not.
But for whatever the reason the problem of illegal Mexico based fishing vessels continues and law enforcement will continue to give chase. The cat and mouse game of Mexican lancha fishing will continue as the cost of the problem also increase both on taxpayers and the environment.