Gulf fishermen call for federal action against illegal foreign fishing

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In a press advisory released by the Gulf Coast Leadership Conference, Gulf of Mexico fishermen say they are threatened by a wave of foreign illegal fishing vessels and the U.S. fishing industry is calling on Congress to take action.

The group was joined by industry stakeholders as well as Gulf fishermen, who say illegal incursions by Mexican fishing boats are undermining their efforts – and the Gulf Coast fishing industry.

“Illegal fishing is a direct threat to the livelihoods of thousands of hardworking Americans along the Gulf coast and we must do more to protect our coastal economies, our coastal businesses, and our fishermen,” said Congressman David Jolly of Florida’s 13th Congressional District. The congressman joined fishermen and coastal business representatives April 8 on a walking tour to discuss the economic impacts of illegal fishing on the historic John’s Pass, Pinellas County as a whole, and its few remaining fishing businesses.

“Fishermen in the United States have made great sacrifices to rebuild and maintain fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico,” said Capt. Jason De La Cruz, owner/operator of Wild Seafood on John’s Pass and board member of the Gulf of Mexico Reef Fish Shareholders’ Alliance. “Foreign pirates know that, so they’re sneaking into our waters to steal our fish, which undercuts our conservation efforts and detracts from fishing-related businesses around the Gulf. These fish belong on the tables of families in the United States. U.S. commercial fishermen and processors work tirelessly to deliver fresh, sustainably-caught, domestic seafood to our families. It is important for our federal legislators to know that the playing field is not level in the Gulf and our fishermen are being undercut by this problem of foreign illegal fishing.”

Illegal fishing continues to threaten recent rebuilding of Gulf fisheries in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill back in 2013, limiting opportunities for commercial and recreational fishermen to fish, reducing the domestic seafood supply, and, if left unchecked, costing businesses like Wild Seafood and others around the Gulf their livelihoods, according the business group.

“My family charter boat business has been taking people out fishing in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1920’s,” said Mark Hubbard, CEO of Hubbard’s Marina, which also operates on John’s Pass. “As a life-long Pinellas County recreational fisherman, I was mortified to learn that illegal fishing takes almost as many red snapper out of the water as the total recreational angler catch in all of Texas last year. This degrades our fisheries and takes away opportunities from recreational fishermen. When that happens, business slows down.”

Will Ward, CEO of Captain’s Finest Seafood and a member of the Board of Directors for the Gulf Fishermen’s Association, said, “[y]ou can talk to business owners and fishermen, and it doesn’t matter if you’re in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Texas. Everyone who I talk to sees illegal fishing by these foreign vessels as a chronic problem, and one they’re looking to Washington to do something about.”

De La Cruz added, “Our families deserve better than criminally-caught fish tainted by overfishing and slave labor. We deserve fresh-caught, domestic wild fish that is harvested sustainably and cared for properly by trusted professional fishermen and processors. We all need to tell our legislators that’s what we want and they need to step up efforts to protect small businesses by cracking down on illegal fishing in the Gulf.”

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