Following Oceana’s newly released report on the harmful impacts of illegal fishing, one of the questions that I as Oceana’s Northeast representative was asked most often was, “Where is this happening?” The short answer: Illegal fishing happens everywhere, from the most distant waters near Antarctica to just off the U.S. coast.
This fact was dramatically illustrated earlier this week when the U.S. Coast Guard responded to reports that a group of Mexican fishermen in small boats called “lanchas” had crossed the U.S.-Mexico ocean border and were fishing with destructive longlines in U.S. waters. Unfortunately, this type of illegal fishing is not a new problem, but it has significant impacts on the shark populations in the Gulf of Mexico as well as on the management and recovery of the shark fishery in that region. This is especially true for hammerhead sharks, which are common catches on Mexican boats despite recently being given additional protection by CITES, the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species.
The Coast Guard responded with its 33-foot special law enforcement boats (capable of more than 60 mph) and caught one of the four lanchas. In addition to capturing the pirate fishermen, the Coast Guard was fortunately able to retrieve their destructive gear and free a number of sharks and one endangered sea turtle.
The Coast Guard reports that so far in 2013, they have seized 11 of these lanchas and more than 13 miles of longlines near the Texas-Mexico border. In the process, they have freed more than 500 fish, 85 sharks and one sea turtle.
It is good to see that the Coast Guard is working so hard in the fight against illegal fishing in the U.S. Thank you!