Some of the imported fish from Mexico in your market may have been illegally caught in Texas by Mexican fishermen before being sold in the U.S. Authorities are trying to put a stop to the illegal catch.
Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens start their engines and get ready to sail out for a day patrolling the waters off South Padre Island along the U.S.-Mexico boundary on a typical morning.
“It’s about a six-mile run to the mouth of the Rio Grande,” Texas Game Warden Sgt. Jason Duke explained. “We’ll conduct a little patrol down there and see if we can find some illegal gear or Mexican boats on this side of the border fishing.”
Within minutes, game wardens spot something unusual: two fishing boats on the horizon with what they believe are Mexican fishermen on board.
“They might be just on their side but that means that they might have some gear that they’ve set on our side,” Game Warden Santana Torres noted.
By "gear," they mean nets and long lines with fish hooks tied to floating plastic bottles.
Torres has the tough task of locating the gear as it's camouflaged with the sun’s reflection on the surface of the water.
Game wardens Torres and David Kimball have to reel the line several feet at a time, pulling out bottles and metal anchors along with it. They cut the hooks tied to the fish line as they continue reeling for hours. The feet soon turn into yards, then into miles, but not without some casualties.
The lines are loaded with bait, which attract all types of sea animals, including sharks, a sea turtle, and even a sting ray. It’s all worth something for Mexican fishermen.
“They don’t throw anything back," Kimball said. "It’s just pure take."
However, the ultimate prize is red snapper.
Game wardens didn’t find any on this line, but they say it’s what Mexican fishermen are ultimately after. A single catch of an adult fish is worth upwards of $100 once it’s sold in the U.S.
“It kind of puts our fishermen at a loss,” Torres said. “It’s pretty sad.”
Texas game wardens, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, are on constant pursuits to keep illegal activity out of our waters, but it isn’t easy.
“We’re a big boat, so they see us coming from a long way and they’re running before we get there, nine times out of 10,” said Sgt. Duke.
After six hours of reeling in one of the longest, continuous fish lines they’ve encountered, the crew heads back.
All in all, about five miles worth of fish line and nine anchors is the day's take. It was a good day in their books.
The game wardens don't see an end to this game of cat and mouse unless lawmakers impose stiffer penalties on those who fish illegally.
Meanwhile, they are requesting more funding to upgrade their fleet and equipment in the upcoming legislative session, to better patrol the coastal waters along the border.