A small but swift U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat bounced violently over the choppy Gulf of Mexico last week, becoming airborne more than once before the chief ordered the pilot to slow down.
Five-foot waves and constant swell are typical February conditions at the U.S.-Mexico maritime boundary — even pleasant compared to other days the armed and ready crew members search for Mexican fishermen poaching in U.S. waters.
Four or five men in a simple Mexican watercraft, or “lancha,” can easily take tens of thousands of dollars in fish on a single run. The boats don’t look like much — rickety white fiberglass hulls with no steering wheels, powered by standard Yamaha outboard motors, equipped with simple fishing gear and rusting navigational equipment. But Mexican poachers are mostly winning the cat-and-mouse game, slipping through the violent chop and back into Mexico’s territorial seas, coolers laden with fish.