Coast Guard Busts Three Boats Off Texas Coast With Nearly 2,500 Pounds of Illegal Snapper

by Caitlin Berard

Since at least the 1840s, fishermen have flocked to the Gulf of Mexico for its abundance of red snapper. The impressive fish can reach over three feet in length and exceed 80 pounds in weight, making it one of the most popular sports fishes in the area.

Due to overfishing, however, regulations had to be placed on the harvesting of these mammoth predators. Private recreational anglers are limited to 2 fish per day in federal waters and 4 fish per day in state waters. These limits are enforced by the Coast Guard and help maintain a healthy snapper population.

Unfortunately, however, poachers are rampant in the Gulf of Mexico, especially when it comes to the red snapper. The high-priced fish has sparked a multimillion-dollar black market operation, in which Mexican fishermen will illegally catch thousands of pounds of these fish, returning to Mexican waters before they’re caught.

This has been an ongoing issue for the U.S. Coast Guard for years and continues to plague them to this day. The latest incident occurred on Tuesday (August 30). And though these criminals often manage to escape apprehension, this one was a success story for the hardworking crews of the USCG.

U.S. Coast Guard Successfully Apprehends Red Snapper Poachers

On Tuesday, the U.S. Coast Guard caught three illegal fishing boats in federal waters off the coast of Texas. Immediately recognizing these boats as lanchas, the officers already had their suspicions.

Lanchas are 20-30 foot long skiffs with slender profiles and one outboard motor. And unfortunately, they’re frequently used for illegal means. Coast Guard officials often find these boats weighed down with illegal narcotics and the spoils of fish poaching.

This encounter was no different. All three lanchas were investigated and their crews, made up of fourteen total fishermen, apprehended. An initial search completed by the Coast Guard revealed the vessels had enormous quantities of both red snapper and sharks onboard.

In total, the three Mexican fishing boats were found to have “approximately 440 pounds of shark and 2,425 pounds of red snapper, along with fishing gear, radios, GPS devices, and high flyers,” according a statement from the U.S. Coast Guard.

“Coast Guard crews detained the Mexican fishermen and are scheduled to transfer them to border enforcement agents for processing,” the statement continued.

The USCG Seizes Multiple Tons of Illegal Fish From Poachers Annually

Sadly, the Coast Guard’s shocking find was nothing new for the Gulf of Mexico crews. More and more illegal fishing boats are intercepted every year, owing to the profitable black market industry.

In 2020 alone, for example, Coast Guards stationed at South Padre Island seized almost 40 tons of marine life from lanchas. And of course, every time the USCG catches these illegal fishermen, they’re detained.

Unfortunately, however, these criminals are almost always released without charges. According to U.N. law, foreign anglers must be released after posting bail.

“They’ll come into U.S. waters, they’ll fish, [and] they’ll grab as much snapper as they can,” Lt. Cmdr. Dan Ippolitio explained to NPR. “[Then] they’ll go head back south before we can detect them. The average catch they’ll have on board is 1,000 to 3,000 pounds of snapper.”