The U.S. Coast Guard made a record-setting number of illegal fishing interdictions in the Gulf of Mexico this past fiscal year.
USCG, which hones in on the lanchas through sightings from the air and pursuit on the water, reported that 175 were spotted and 138 were intercepted, with 74 interdictions. In fiscal year 2018, there were 61 lancha interdictions.
Lanchas are 20-30 feet long and capable of going up to 30 miles per hour, and along with poaching fish inside the the U.S. zone are also used to smuggle drugs or people.
“Working with our ReCoM partners, we will continue to apply maximum pressure along the Maritime Boundary Line in order to deter this illicit activity, preserve our natural resources and uphold U.S. sovereignty,” said Lt. Kurtis Mees, Coast Guard Station South Padre Island commanding officer, in a statement. “I couldn’t be more proud of my crew’s efforts and their steadfast dedication towards this mission.”
“This problem has persisted now in South Texas for 30-plus years and we are committed to seeing an end to it,” he added.
Last month, USCG Cutter Mellon wrapped up an 80-day patrol targeting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing activity in the Pacific Ocean. Coast Guard and Canadian fishery officers boarded 45 vessels flagged in Japan, Russia, South Korea, China, Chinese Taipei and Panama, finding 68 potential violations including evidence of illegal shark finning.
“IUU fishing is one of the greatest threats to the ocean’s fish stocks,” said Capt. Jonathan Musman, Mellon’s commanding officer. “It was an honor to be on the front lines of enforcement efforts of the distant waters fishing fleets.”
The patrol was conducted under the auspices of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission and the North Pacific Fisheries Commission. Two Canadian fishery officers were aboard the Mellon, and Canada also provided officers utilizing a Dash-8 maritime surveillance aircraft.
Retired British Royal Navy Cdr. Peter Horn of the Pew Charitable Trusts, writing for the Maritime Foundation, said last year that “with as much as 26 million tons of seafood taken illegally from our seas each year – that’s one in every five fish sold – IUU fishing is more than just a danger to the environment.”
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, wrote the manager of the Ending Illegal Fishing project, is “a widespread, often highly organized, security threat that can limit the ability of nations to feed, employ and safeguard their citizens.”
“Up to $23.5 billion a year is potentially lost in the global market due to IUU fishing, robbing law-abiding fishers of their economic security and livelihoods,” he said. “Laws preventing IUU fishing and related crimes have little or no effect without robust governance, including proper implementation and enforcement. In other words, efforts to end illegal fishing should be designed and executed in a way that is integrated, comprehensive, and aligned with the views of all key players.”
Horn compared IUU fishing to “an arms race” and noted that the United States has “taken critical steps to engage the seafood industry and identify market levers that will help bring about effective change along the supply chain.”
“What’s most important is strong leadership across all these areas of work, accompanied by a willingness to share information and resources – that is what will win the battle against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing,” Horn added.