Most of the fisheries are managed in federal waters and represent a $14 billion dollar industry.
But pirate fishing hurts commercial fishers, like Scott Hickman of the Charter Fisherman’s Association.
He told the Gulf Coast Leadership conference that it’s getting hard to make a living competing with those who skirt around the law. He says it’s a real problem.
“They’re flooding our markets with illegal fish on the commercial side, and they’re taking the ability for the charter boat fleet to be able to go out and make a living, because they’re pulling fish away from the same pool of fish that I need, to take the people that are coming down here to the coast on vacation, to go catch these fish,” said Hickman.
Earlier this month, the U.S. authorities intercepted and seized a Mexican boat that was pulling about 17-miles of long line netting. It had snagged more than 150 sharks weighing over 1500 pounds.
Lt. Les Casterline with Texas Parks and Wildlife, Department of Fisheries Enforcement, says game wardens patrol waterways looking for poachers.
“These illegal fishermen are running various types of gear as gill net, long lines in Texas which are not legal hoop nets, illegal size cast nets, just multiple types of gear that they’re using,” said Casterline.
Law enforcement tries to keep up, but sometimes it gets difficult with just four boats are responsible for patrolling 3,000 square miles of the Gulf.
The problem is not just limited to Texas coastal waters.
William Ward is with the Gulf Fisherman’s Association.
“This is an international problem,” said Ward. “Billions of dollars are harvested internationally, and then flood the U.S. markets, or bordering states. But not just the Gulf Coast, it’s all up the East Coast of the United States, around the Pacific — anywhere in international territorial waters. So it’s a big problem, big problem.”
He says it’s not just a depletion of Gulf waters that’s an issue for Texas fishermen.
“What happens in Thailand; what happens in Indonesia really affects the Gulf,” said Ward. “They can flood the market with slave labor. They can flood the market with product that’s not been fished under regulations under the rule of law, and they’ve in essense, found packaging mechanisms and a pathway to allow that product to get into the United States.”
Ward hopes the conference will lead to rule changes and laws that would help curtail illegal fishing.