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Mexican fishboats barred from US ports for illegal fishing of red snapper

US government says Mexico hasn't done enough to stop the practice

Mexican fishboats are now prohibited from entering United States ports in the Gulf of Mexico after a U.S. government ban took effect Monday due to illegal fishing in U.S. waters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a U.S. government agency, said in a ruling in early January that Mexican vessels would be barred from entering those ports starting February 7.

According to the U.S. government, Mexico hasn’t done enough to stop Mexican boats’ illegal fishing of red snapper.

“Mexican boats frequently use prohibited long lines or nets to haul in snapper in U.S. waters. Such nets and lines can indiscriminately trap marine life,” the Associated Press reported.

The number of detected illegal fishing incursions into U.S. waters reached 138 in 2020, double the figure of 2019.

In a report submitted to the U.S. Congress last August, NOAA said that Mexico had made some progress on combatting the practice but not enough.

The apprehension of repeat offenders by the U.S. Coast Guard is common, with some Mexican fishermen being detected in U.S. waters more than 20 times over the past eight years. More than 100 recidivists were caught between October 2019 and September 2020, and an additional 84 were apprehended in the following six months.

NOAA said the incursions must decrease before the ban will be lifted. The agency said the United States is committed to working with Mexico to combat the problem.

Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier said Monday that Mexican authorities would do what they could to have the ban lifted.

“In a few days we’ll have a meeting with environmental organizations to see how we’re going to do it,” she said in an interview.

Agriculture and fishing authorities said Monday they are engaging in discussions with northern Gulf coast fishermen about the illegal fishing issue.

Foreign Affairs Minister Marcelo Ebrard claimed that Mexican boats were entering U.S. waters by mistake, asserting that “sometimes it’s hard to determine the exact line” between the two countries’ territorial waters. “It’s not something intentional,” he said.

However, AP noted that critics say that it’s more likely that Mexican boats are following fish into U.S. waters rather than repeatedly making the same navigational mistake.

Renata Terrazas, Mexico vice president of non-profit ocean conservation organization Oceana, said the ban will have multiple adverse impacts.

“The most immediate is … [on] boats that go to United States ports to buy gasoline or sell fish,” she said, including those that abide by the law.

Oceana has called on the Mexican government to implement traceability regulations that would facilitate the provision of information about the processes that seafood goes through “from the boat to the plate” and thus give greater certainty about where fish are caught. However, an initiative to that end has been stalled at the National Aquaculture and Fisheries Commission for almost a year, according to the NGO.

“If they activate the regulations, certainty that we’re taking the [illegal fishing] problem seriously could be provided to the United States,” Terrazas said.

“Fishing in Mexico seems to be a 19th century activity. It needs to meet the standards of international markets, of consumers who are increasingly looking for more sustainable products,” she said.

The United States last year suspended Mexico’s certification to export wild-caught shrimp to the U.S. due to inadequate sea turtle protection measures, but the suspension ended six months later in October.

With reports from El País and AP

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