Your red snapper might have been caught by drug runners... Federal agencies have long struggled to stop illegal fishing and drug smuggling in the Gulf of Mexico. In recent years, itís only gotten worse.


Snapper is so lucrative that it has given rise to an extensive poaching industry in the lower Texas Gulf. For years, Mexican fishermen based several miles south of the Rio Grande have motored into U.S. waters on boats called lanchas, set out long lines and nets, and hauled out countless tons of snapper, to be sold in Mexico or exported back to the United States. U.S. officials say the illegal trade is supported by the Gulf Cartel, a criminal enterprise based in Tamaulipas State that depends on some of the same boatmen to run drugs north. The plunder of snapper, and the needless killing of bycatch such as turtles and sharks, infuriates Texas fishermen, marine biologists, and ocean conservationists who have worked for decades to bring back the species. Meanwhile, the brazen incursions by Mexican skiffs carrying fish and narcotics in U.S. waters are bedeviling the U.S. Coast Guard, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which regulates fisheries.


This year, NOAA had enough. In its biennial Report to Congress, Improving International Fisheries Management, the agency negatively certified Mexico for ďillegal, unreported, and unregulatedĒ fishing in U.S. territorial waters. NOAA also chided China, Costa Rica, Guyana, the Russian Federation, Senegal, and Taiwan in the report, but Mexico was the only nation to receive a formal sanction, which includes restrictions on Mexican fishing vessels using U.S. ports. But the impact of that measure will be slight, as few such vessels dock in the United States.

The NOAA decertification could lead to restrictions on Mexican seafood imports to the U.S. market, but that would require President Bidenís sign-off. Because the United States counts on strong relations with Mexico around trade policy and immigration enforcement, itís doubtful Biden would risk antagonizing our Southern neighbor over snapper, just for the sake of Texas fishermen.