Mexican Poachers Are Taking Our Fish - Legal Changes Hopefully Coming
Get your manos off of my Red Snapper!
Anyone who has been robbed knows the stinging violation, anxiety and vulnerability that follow such a crime. Recently that feeling has become painfully familiar to commercial and recreational fishermen throughout the Gulf of Mexico.
Almost daily, the Coast Guard reports another incident of Mexican poachers violating our waters in the Gulf of Mexico to steal our nation's fish. The boats that carry the pirates to the scene may look small, but their crimes add up and threaten the sustainability of fisheries from Texas to the Florida Keys.
Commercial and recreational fisheries are a powerful economic engine in the Gulf of Mexico. They provide jobs, tourism, tax revenue and sustainable seafood. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the fishing industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs and contributes more than $30 billion annually to the region's economy. In 2012, Florida's fishing industry alone supported 82,000 jobs.
Globally, illegal and unreported fishing accounts for up to $23 billion worth of wild-caught marine fish, or one out of every five fish caught. That's approximately 1,800 pounds of fish stolen every second. Based on sheer numbers, the western Gulf of Mexico has become a bastion for illegal fishing. This must be stopped.
According to the Coast Guard, Mexican boats make more than 1,110 incursions into U.S. waters every year, stealing upwards of 760,000 pounds of red snapper alone. They also help themselves to our sharks, tuna, mackerel and sometimes fire shots at officials who dare to confront them. Many of these criminals also engage in drug smuggling, the illegal arms trade and human trafficking.
These poachers know that fishing is better in U.S. waters because we enforce laws that keep our fisheries abundant. In fact, many fisheries experts say that Mexico's portion of the Gulf is nearly depleted. This could be our fate if we fail to act immediately and decisively.
Negative Effects on Recreational Fishing
Recreational anglers are suffering tremendously from this rampant lawlessness. My family business, Hubbard's Marina, has been taking people fishing in the Gulf since the 1920s. Our recreational fishing seasons could be longer and we could serve more customers if these blatant problems were solved.
Poachers rely on tactical loopholes in international law to bring their product to the market. They know which ports are likely to accept illegally caught fish, and they run their stolen crop through these docks.
Thankfully there is a solution in the works: In April 2014, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, a treaty that would strengthen port inspection protocols for foreign-flagged vessels.
This Bill Can Put Teeth in Law
This move would stop a significant portion of illegally caught fish from reaching the world's markets and would diminish the incentive for poachers to continue their illegal activities. For the PSMA to become law, the House must answer the Senate's action with a version of its own.
On Feb. 6, a bi-partisan bill was introduced in the House Natural Resources committee to do just that. The bill, HR 774, would also strengthen other enforcement mechanisms aimed at eliminating illegal fishing.
I am grateful to Reps. David Jolly (R) Indian Shores, and Carlos Curbelo (R) Miami, for actively supporting HR 774, and I strongly urge the rest of our state's delegation to support this bill.
Please help us bring order to our backyard by encouraging your elected officials to support HR 774. There is still time to save our livelihood and preserve our communities. But I fear our time may be running out.
Read more on illegal catches detained by authorities.
Written by Mark Hubbard, who is president and general manager of Hubbard's Marina in John's Pass. He wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.