On Thursday, December 29, a crew of U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) agents intercepted a fleet of five speed boats illegally fishing in federal waters off the coast of southern Texas. The operation resulted in the arrest of 22 Mexican fishermen and the confiscation of nearly 600 pounds of red snapper, according to a press release issued by the USCG Eighth District Detachment out of Houston, Texas. 

The crew of the Benjamin Daily Coast Guard Cutter has been credited with locating and stopping the illegal fishing operation. The Benjamin Daily crew was manning a different cutter called the Jacob Poroo when they busted the poachers with help from Coast Guard aircrews patrolling nearby. 

“Through our great collective efforts, we continue to detect and deter illegal fishing occurring in southern Texas waters,” said Ryan Ortega, an officer with a USCG air crew out of Corpus Christi, Texas. “Our crews are always ready to protect U.S. waters from foreign intrusion and enforce domestic living marine resource laws.”

In addition to 590 pounds of red snapper, the crews seized commercial and recreational fishing gear, GPS equipment, radios, and three sharks. The agents transferred all 22 of the illegal anglers to border patrol for processing.

red snapper confiscated by coast guard
Red snapper is one of several fish species targeted by illegal Mexican fishing outfits operating in U.S. waters, the USCG said. United States Coast Guard

The type of boats intercepted by the USCG last Thursday are commonly referred to as “lanchas.” A lancha is a long, open-hulled craft with a slender profile—typically powered by one outboard motor. The vessels are frequently used to transport illegal narcotics into the United States and for illegal fishing within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. The first interception of a lancha illegally operating in U.S. waters took place in the late 1980s, and the boats have been routinely targeted by Coast Guard officials ever since. 

seized mexican lanchas
These seized Mexican lanchas rest within a fenced-in yard near a Coast Guard station on South Padre Island, Texas. United States Coast Guard

“We view the lancha issue as an immediate threat to our living marine resources, border security, and U.S. sovereignty,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brendan Dunn, assistant chief of enforcement, Coast Guard District Eight. “In recent years, the illegal trade of red snapper, grouper, shark and other reef fish species has become extremely lucrative for the transnational criminal organizations operating in Mexico.”

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According to the USCG, up to 27 million tons of fish are illegally caught around the world each year, to the tune of more than $23 billion in annual losses. In 2022 alone, nearly 16,000 pounds of illegally harvested fish were confiscated from the hulls of 387 Mexican lanchas by USGS agents.