Illegal fishing still very prominent in Gulf

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The United States’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), otherwise known as U.S. waters, spans 200 nautical miles from the individual states’ water lines, but for more than two decades, the U.S.’s EEZ has been penetrated by foreign fishermen from Mexico.

Due to lack of enforcement, these Mexican lanchas (the boats used by Mexican fishermen) fish in our waters and import the stolen fish back in to the United States to compete with U.S.-caught seafood. Will Ward – the CEO of Captain’s Finest Seafood in Clearwater, a member of the board of directors of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association, and attorney and owner of Ward Consulting, LLC – said there’s no deterrent toward the illegal fishermen. There isn’t enough authority to take the foreign vessel and send it back from where it came.

However, there may be stronger enforcement on the horizon. In April, a treaty passed through the U.S. Senate that would strengthen states’ port inspection standards for international vessels. It’s one step closer to complete legislation. Ward said he’s been working on legislation for the past two years, and the House Committee of Natural Resources will soon be looking at the write-up.

“Something will happen, fingers crossed,” he said.

If passed, this legislation could require certain vessels to report they’re landing at a specific port. On top of that, foreign vessels could be tracked and told to go to a specific state port where authorities will have the right to inspect the boats for illegally caught fish, illegal animals, illegal drugs, and human trafficking for sex trade and labor.

Foreign fishermen can also be tried under the new legislation if anything illegal is found on their boats, Ward added.

Besides illegally catching our fish – which include species of sharks (and fins), red snapper, groupers, tunas, mahi and shrimp – the foreign fishermen also set long lines and unnecessary netting. In 2012, lines and nets accounted for the deaths of 6,000 sharks, 300 red snapper and innumerable mackerel. Around the world, illegal fishing racks up about $23.5 billion worth of fish, or about 1,800 pounds of fish stolen every second.

Ward encourages U.S. citizens to contact their congressman or congresswoman about unregulated fishing.

“We protect what we value and we should value this,” he said.

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