A Battle On The Gulf Pits The Coast Guard Against Mexican Red Snapper PoachersJohn Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27...A Battle On The Gulf Pits The Coast Guard Against Mexican Red Snapper Poachers
John Burnett at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., September 27, 2018. (photo by Allison Shelley)
Mexican fishermen tend to their nets on Bagdad Beach, just south of the Texas-Mexico border. Red snapper poaching along the Gulf is a multi-million dollar black market.
It's the hidden U.S.-Mexico border war.
For years, Mexican fisherman have crossed into U.S. waters to illegally catch high-priced red snapper. It has become a multi-million dollar black market, the Mexican cartel is involved, Texas fishermen are outraged, and the federal government can't seem to stop it.
The U.S. Coast Guard on South Padre Island has a one-of-a-kind mission among the 197 stations along the nation's seacoasts. Their chief enforcement activity entails bouncing across the swells of the lower Texas Gulf in pursuit of wily Mexican fishing boats filled with plump, rosy fish destined for seafood houses in Mexico City and Houston.
"United States Coast Guard! Stop your vessel! Stop your vessel!" yells a Coastie in his bullhorn as the 900-horsepower fast-pursuit boat pulls alongside the Mexican lancha. Four Mexican fishermen tried to outrun it but thought better and throttled down. The fishermen are handcuffed, their catch is confiscated and the boat is towed back to the Coast Guard station.
Scenes like this, captured on Coast Guard video, have become more and more common. Interdictions of illegal fishing boats have soared from nine seizures in 2010 to 148 incidents last year, with 547 Mexican fishermen detained and released without charges.