Coast Guard saves 50 sharks from illegal nets in Texas

The rescue is among the largest of its kind, and part of a broader effort to combat illegal fishing practices in US waters.

U.S. Coast Guard via AP
In this photo released by the U.S. Coast Guard, a boat crew from Coast Guard Station South Padre Island, Texas frees a shark from an illegal gill net Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, near the U.S.-Mexico maritime boundary line. Mexican fishing boats departed as the crew approached and they found 1,800 feet of gill net with 55 sharks, five of which were dead, and two tripletail, which were all released back to the ocean.

The Coast Guard has recently saved an estimated 50 sharks off the coast of Texas, one of the largest rescues of its kind.

The sharks were found when a patrol boat observed four Mexican boats fishing with illegal gear north of the US-Mexican boundary line. Texas state law stipulates that fishing must be performed with a license, unless in the enclosed boundary of a state park.

When the Coast Guard approached, the fishermen fled south, leaving behind their nets and five dead sharks. The Coast Guard was able to remove 400 yards of netting from the fifty sharks that were still alive and release them back into the ocean.

“The Coast Guard is absolutely invested and engaged daily in combating the intense illegal fishing by Mexican fisherman in U.S. waters,” Capt. Tony Hahn, the commander of Sector Corpus Christi, told the Ft. Myers (Fla.) News-Press. “This requires our personnel to spend countless hours at sea to stop this indiscriminate violation of fisheries law and U.S. sovereignty. We sincerely appreciate any reports or information that can lead to stopping this criminal activity.”

Most of the world's fish is caught in the national waters off coastal states, according to Pew. Illegal fishing has multiple definitions, from fishing without a license, to fishing for protected species, to underreporting or neglecting to report the amount of fish taken. Sharks are often killed for their fins, which is seen as a delicacy in some Asian markets.

In 2014, the Texas Fish and Wildlife Department began raising awareness about illegal fishing practices by distributing a “wanted poster” requesting any and all information about illegal fishing on the Texas-Mexico border.

“The Gulf of Mexico, Rio Grande, Falcon Lake and Amistad Lake are included in the affected areas,” Grahame Jones, Chief of Special Operations, said in a news release. “These acts of illegal and unreported fishing adversely impact both the recreational and commercial fishing industries.”

In November of this year, President Obama signed a bipartisan act called the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Enforcement Act, which is specifically designed to target illegal fishing practices and prevent illegally-caught fish from entering US markets.  

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