Photo: US Coast Guard often boats and equipment from illegal shark fishermen
The U.S. Coast Guard stationed in our southern waters have been on the look out for dangerous pirates lately, but even more recently, they have been attempting to stop Mexican fisherman who have been illegally crossing the border to catch sharks.
At night, boats from Mexico can often be found in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Texas’ coast, but while some carry drugs or immigrants, more often than not, they’re carrying fishermen looking for sharks. Globally, the shark fin trade is worth over a billion dollars.
It is estimated that this fishing results in more than 50,000 sharks being caught illegally by these fisherman.
“They have GPS devices. They know where they are in the gulf and what they’re doing. They are violating the sovereignty of American waters,” said Lt. Mickey Laler.
Though Lt. Laler and others in the coast guard give chase, the Mexican fishermen often make it back over to Mexican waters with their catch.
Just south of the border, Eric Carillo’s family runs a small shark fishing business in Playa Bagdad. Each month, they bring in $5,000 to $10,000, with most of that money coming from fin sales, but some also coming from the shark meat sold to markets in Mexico City. “It’s the same game every day. They chase us, sometimes seizing our boats. And the next day we do it again.”
Ecologists have begun to worry that these fishermen are lowering the shark population too much, and are damaging the ecosystems
“Because these guys fly under the radar, they could be catching a lot more sharks than we think,” said shark biologist Robert Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. Hueter has studied the impact of shark fishing near the border, and said, “The fact that much of their fishing might be unaccounted for — that’s the big concern.”
The reasoning for all the illegal fishing in U.S. waters is likely due to unregulated fishing on the Mexico side that has resulted in a diminished shark population.
Because most of the laws in place were in regards to immigration and drug trafficking, the illegal fishing has continued, and the Coast is not sure what more they can do. They confiscate boats and equipment, but as Carillo said, “the next day we do it again.”
The Coast Guard has seen another increase in the number of fishermen they come across, and say pursuits tend to be with the same people time and time again.
“I’ve lost more than 13 boats to the patrol in the last 10 years. We’ve lost thousands of dollars in equipment,” Carillo said. “But we’ve made four times more money fishing across the border than we would have made otherwise. It’s worth the risk.”