By JIM FOSTER
Special to the Parade
In this day of “bending the laws,” we sometimes overlook the fact that laws have been broken, at times beyond repair. Fishing without the proper license is bad enough, but being an “outdoor outlaw for profit” is a whole other matter.
Sharks are the most common target and are harvested not only for their meat but also for their fins. Shark fins are used for soup and are considered some of the world’s most expensive seafood. The high demand for it supports a worldwide black market.
Operation Shark Fin was a four-day, around-the-clock Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) effort along the lower coast aimed at disrupting transnational criminal organizations engaged in illegal commercial fishing and other activities in the Gulf of Mexico, the Rio Grande and Falcon Lake.
The successful operation resulted in the seizure of 17,500 feet of long lines, two vessels and 15 citations or arrests.
More than 50 state game wardens and 10 TPW patrol vessels participated in the intensive operation. During the special operation, game wardens made contact with 65 vessels, five vehicles and 206 people.
Fish recovered from illegal long lines and gill net included Atlantic sharpnose sharks, black tip sharks and red drum. Citations or arrests included four for sport fishing violations; two commercial fishing violations (possession of headed/tailed snapper, fillets seized from shrimp boat); two drug-related arrests; three alcohol-related arrests; and two local warrant arrests. In addition, two juvenile runaways were located.
This operation focused on the lower coast border region where commercial fishing vessels from Mexico known as “launchas” enter our state and federal waters illegally. The “launcha” crews use gill nets and long lines to catch whatever they can, including many sharks and red drum.
In many cases, the Mexican waters have been overfished. Because of that, we are now seeing an increasing number of vessels from Mexico illegally fishing in Texas or federal waters. According to a TPW spokesman this activity must be stopped.
TPW is extremely appreciative of the long-term efforts by the U.S. Coast Guard in combating illicit commercial fishing activities in the Gulf, particularly commercial vessels from Mexico that routinely fish state and federal waters using illegal long lines and gill nets.
When commercial fishermen from Mexico are caught in the act in Texas or U.S. waters, the only charges that can be filed are misdemeanors punishable by fines. However, the illegal fishing equipment and vessel can be seized.
Marine interests spotting gill nets or long lines in Texas waters are urged to call the Operation Game Thief hotline at 1-800-792 GAME (4263), contact a game warden or notify the U.S. Coast Guard.
Editor’s Note: To see more of Jim’s writing and photography go to: http://fosteroutdoors.blogspot.com/. If you have comments or news for Jim Foster, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.