A critical vote in a House Committee on Thursday unanimously passed H.R. 774, the “Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015.” Its goal is to stop foreign and illegal fishing in US waters.
The bill provides for increased enforcement activity by the Coast Guard, which stops, seizes, arrests and fines Mexican fishermen poaching in Texas and U.S. waters. Such activity is almost a daily event at Coast Guard bases in South Padre Island, Port Aransas and Port O-Conner
The Gulf Coast Leadership Council was thrilled with the vote: “Today, Members of the House Natural Resources Committee showed strong leadership on legislation to help stop foreign illegal fishing in U.S. waters, an issue increasingly impacting America’s commercial fishing fleets, seafood processors, wholesalers and retailers, recreational charter fishing, and tourism related businesses,” said Chad Wilbanks, chairman of the Gulf Coast Leadership Conference.
Among the sponsors of H.R. 774 were three members of the Texas Delegation: Congressman Blake Farenthold (TX-27), Congressman Randy Weber (TX-14), and Congressman Roger Williams (TX-25).
Congressman Weber, whose district spans the upper Texas Coast from Freeport to the Sabine River, told Breitbart Texas: “I’m proud to be a co-sponsor of H.R. 774, a common-sense piece of legislation that will aggressively protect our waters from illegal pirate fishing.”
Foreign fishing boats routinely enter U.S. sovereign waters and illegally poach hundreds or thousands of fish at a time. The problem is most acute in the Gulf of Mexico, perpetrated by Mexican poachers, but it happens elsewhere as well. Illegal crabbing by Russian crews in Alaskan waters have cost that state hundreds of millions in lost revenue, according to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
In an incident in May, 2014, a Mexican fishing boat was seized by the U.S. Coast Guard off the coast of South Padre Island, Texas. Upon boarding the vessel, officials found 48 dead red snapper. The five Mexican nationals on board were taken into custody and turned over to the U.S. Border Patrol, which released them to Mexican law enforcement officials.
“What we witnessed today was a fleet of foreign fishing vessels likely committing significant and intentional violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Act,” said Cmdr. Daniel Deptula, the response officer at Coast Guard Sector Corpus Christi, in a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas. “Unfortunately, this illegal exploitation of red snapper has been a persistent problem for federal and state agencies and a threat to future recreational and commercial fishing seasons in South Texas.”
“By marking up this bill and advancing it to the House floor, the committee is moving toward protecting hundreds of thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars of revenue for U.S. businesses,” added Will Ward of the Gulf Fishermen’s Association. “We now encourage the full House to pass this bill as soon as possible, to give U.S. law enforcement the added authority they need to effectively stop pirate fishing.”
According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Gulf of Mexico’s commercial and recreational fishing industries contributed more than $30 billion annually to the region’s economy in 2012.
On a global scale, illegal and unreported fishing account for up to $23.5 billion worth of seafood, or about one in every five fish taken from our oceans, according to research from the Gulf Coast Leadership Council.
Congressman Weber will be back in the 14th district for the week of May 4th, visiting the Port of Galveston and making opening remarks at the Offshore Technology Conference. No “town hall” meetings are scheduled with constituents.
Rob Milford is a news contributor for Breitbart Texas. Follow him on Facebook.