U.S. Rep. David Jolly toured the John’s Pass waterfront this week to highlight the effect of illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico on the region’s fishing industry.
The Indian Shores Republican was among 20 co-sponsors of HR 774, a bipartisan bill implementing the Port State Measures Agreement, commonly known as the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act.
Introduced in the House National Resources Committee, the U.S. Senate unanimously approved the bill last year.
The act would strengthen port inspections of foreign fishing boats, as well as improve enforcement efforts to prevent illegal fishing. In addition, the measure would also support efforts to slow down other illegal imports.
Coast Guard officials estimate Mexican fishermen illegally harvest about 1 million pounds of red snapper in U.S. waters per year every year, driving down grouper and shark populations.
“Illegal poaching is one of those areas everybody agrees something needs to be done,” Jolly told reporters. “What happens? It hurts our commercial and recreation fishing industries. Illegal poaching is a crime and we need to do more for government to fight it.”
Hubbard’s Marina CEO Mark Hubbard said illegal fishing affects recreational fishing, by reducing the allowable catches of grouper, amberjack and bluefin tuna.
“Right now, our season for red snapper is nine days per year,” Hubbard said in an interview with Bob McClure of the Beach Beacon. “Our season would be double that if it wasn’t for this poaching problem.
“(Illegal poaching) hurts visitors to this area.”
On hand was Madeira Beach Mayor Travis Palladeno, who runs a charter fishing operation.
Palladeno supports federal efforts to stop illegal fishing, which reduce National Marine Fisheries Service estimates of fish population. As a result, he said, grouper season is down to a month from being year-round in the past.
“Red snapper is now nine days (per year),” he said. “It used to be a six-month season.”
Wild Seafood president and chief operating officer Jason DeLa Cruz said illegal fishing weakens sustainability and attempts to bolster fish populations. He also has to compete with prices from Mexican fish houses, which are frequently lower than U.S. fish wholesalers.
“When we have to compete with that product, it’s a challenge,” DeLa Cruz said. “It affects everybody.”
McClure notes that according to “Transnational Organized Crime in the Fishing Industry,” a recent report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said there is a clear link between vessels used for illegal fishing and human trafficking, smuggling of drugs and illegal immigrants.
U.S. State Department notes that drug traffickers in South and Central America often use fishing boats to move drugs to the United States; fishing vessels from several countries help refuel speedboats that are used to bring drugs ashore into Central America.