Coast Guard sets record for illegal fishing vessel interdictions

A launch crew is interdicted by Coast Guard law enforcement crews for engaging in illegal fishing in federal waters off the coast of southern Texas. (U.S. Coast Guard file photo)

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Coast Guard law enforcement crews interdicted a record-setting number of lanchas throughout the Gulf of Mexico for fiscal year 2020.

Since October 2019, Coast Guard assets and personnel detected a total of 326 lanchas and interdicted 136.

Since the first recorded lancha interdiction in the late 1980s, the Coast Guard has seen a significant uptick in the detection of the vessels, particularly in the past two years, recording 74 lancha interdictions in the previous fiscal year.

The Coast Guard utilizes a layered approach for operations through aircraft, small boats, and cutters, as well as improved technology on those assets, resulting in the drastic increase in lancha interdictions.

“This past year, we applied an unprecedented level of effort along the Maritime Boundary Line towards countering this threat to our natural resources, and the result speaks for itself,” said Lt. Cmdr. Joseph Prado, Coast Guard Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi enforcement chief. “However, we will not be content until we see an end to this affront on our maritime sovereignty. We will continue to leverage all available technology and partnerships to increase our effectiveness. The boating public can play a key role in assisting the Coast Guard. Successful interdictions are oftentimes the result of timely reports from the maritime community. We encourage all boaters to continue to report all suspected illegal fishing.”

A lancha is a fishing boat used by Mexican fishermen that is approximately 20-30 feet long with a slender profile. They typically have one outboard motor and are capable of traveling at speeds exceeding 30 mph. Lanchas pose a major threat, usually entering the United States’ Exclusive Economic Zone near the U.S.-Mexico border in the Gulf of Mexico with the intent to smuggle people, drugs, or poach the United States natural resources.

If you witness suspicious activity or illegal fishing in state waters (out to 9 miles offshore), please contact the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s “Operation Game Thief” at 1-800-792-GAME (4263). For all suspicious activity or illegal fishing occurring in federal waters (out to 200 miles offshore), please contact the U.S. Coast Guard at 361-939-0450.

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