Posted: Dec 28, 2012 7:40 PM
Updated: Dec 28, 2012 8:54 PM
SOUTH PADRE ISLAND - Mexican fishermen are wandering further north of the international boundary in the Gulf of Mexico in search of better catches, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.
The Coast Guard on Monday found a gill net 18 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico boundary. They said it is the furthest they have seen illegal fishing in U.S. waters.
Hundreds of sharks and other fish were tangled in the net, officials said.
Coast Guard officials said they have found tens of thousands of illegal nets this year.
"There were 345 sharks recovered and 6 miles of net," U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer Second Class Isaac Allen said.
He said thousands of fish, sharks, dolphins and turtles are killed each year in illegal fishing nets.
Texas Parks and Wildlife officials said the number of illegal nets has doubled since 2011.
"The seizures are far past any other year in my 16-year career," TPWD Sgt. James Dunks said.
Gill nets are illegal in the United States because they catch anything that swims into them, officials said.
"Anything that gets caught up in there, makes it very difficult for them to get out," Allen said.
The nets are laid across miles of open water.
"This net right here was actually 10 miles long," Allen said.
"They definitely went on the riskier side of getting caught and us finding them," Allen said.
Dunks said Mexican fishermen are taking more risks because their waters have been overfished.
"Well you get too many people fishing for the same thing, they're not catching as much, so they're going to search new territory to try to find more fish," Dunks said.
Gill nets pose a serious threat the fish populations, officials said.
"Our fish supply will run out the way that Mexico reports that their fish supplies have run out," Allen said.
Dunks said South Texas fishermen will feel the effects of the poaching.
"They can go out with one boat and completely wipe out one reef of all the snapper, the amber jack, of everything that swim right there, it's devastating," Dunks said.
Finding the culprits is part of the challenge, officials said. The lines are left out in the gulf with no one tending to them.
Nobody was caught setting the most recent gill net the Coast Guard confiscated. Allen said there is no way to find out who owns the net.
All the boats confiscated from poachers are destroyed after the legal process runs its course, officials said.