The Texas Gulf Coast supplies seafood for the American public and supports the hospitality industry, tourism-related businesses and our vibrant recreational fishing trade.
However, in recent years, our commercial and recreational fishermen have had to compete with illegal fishing boats in the Gulf of Mexico. This poses a serious economic threat to Texas and to the management and sustainability of our fishing industry.
Since January 2013, Texas game wardens have seized a record amount of fishing gear from Mexican fishing boats caught illegally in Texas waters. In late summer of 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard in South Padre Island detained eight Mexican nationals and two Mexican vessels for illegally fishing in a U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in the Texas Gulf.
In addition to the economic harm illegal fishing causes Texas, the Gulf Coast and the United States, a larger concern is the security threat it poses to our state and country. According to a recent U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime report Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry, there is a direct link between the vessels used for illegal fishing and human trafficking, smuggling of illegal immigrants and drug running.
This study notes the “severity of the abuse of fishers trafficked for the purpose of forced labor onboard fishing vessels.” Often times, these illegal fishing vessels hold foreign nationals in cruel and inhumane conditions, as “de facto prisoners of the sea.”
The study also documented several instances of reported deaths, severe physical and sexual abuse, coercion and general disregard for the safety and working conditions of fishers.
As the U.S. State Department has noted, drug traffickers often use fishing boats to move drugs from South America, while fishing vessels from numerous countries are employed to refuel the speedboats that carry drugs ashore in Central America.
Criminal activity disguised as fishing is common because fishing boats are far less stringently regulated than other classes of vessel. Under U.S. law, there is no requirement to inspect foreign fishing vessels once they enter our Texas ports. And because of the lax enforcement of our immigration laws, many foreign nationals on illegal fishing boats do not consider U.S. penalties to be a deterrent.
The continued activity by illegal Mexican fishing boats constitutes a clear violation of our sovereignty, threatens our national security, damages our economy and harms the continued management efforts of our recreational and commercial fisheries.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a dangerous practice in respect to the economic impact and human suffering.
State Sen. Larry Taylor lives in Friendswood.