At Hooked on Seafood, red snapper fetches a premium price. For fishermen, the tasty fruit of the Gulf of Mexico is like striking gold. "Red snapper is the hottest commodity in the U.S., here in this border," Hooked on Seafood owner Chris Johnson said.But its high demand attracts schools of poachers from across the border. "They're taking our money out of our waters and selling it right back to us and we're paying to do it every day," Johnson continued.He's a fishmonger and fisherman on Texas' South Padre Island. He bellows a decades-long lament illegal fishing operations from Mexico zip through the boundary waters poaching red snapper, shark and shrimp by the thousands. "What's going on is, there's more and more snapper poachers coming off the Baghdad Beach and working in our area they'd catch them all the way up to Corpus Christi," Johnson said. The U.S. Coast Guard trawls the waters close the to the border line looking for the unwelcome visitors in "illegal fishing lanchas."A lancha, which is Spanish for boat, is a 20-30 foot vessel known for being skinny, stealthy and wily. "It's always good to know where your fish are coming from," South Padre Station U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander Dan Ippolito said. "You never want to be involved in any sort of illegal activity or anything like that. And that's another reason we're trying to stop that here."Since October, Coast Guard patrols in South Texas have stopped 60 lanchas and reeled in 58 of them. In the last three years, they've seized hundreds.Various state and federal agencies tell Newsy lanchas have connections to drug cartels. "The boats that are used to run drugs have also been tied to other cartels," U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Collis Brown said. "So the likelihood that they would run drugs with the same boat they're using to fish with, is very likely too."The seized vessels end up in the station's lancha graveyard where if they're not claimed by Mexican authorities, they're destroyed."They're white in color and then they have a blue inside," Ippolito said. "That makes them very difficult to detect on the water because they blend in with the seas. If you're looking from above, it's hard to see blending in with the waves."Boats below need air patrols circling above.Mission systems operators use a plane-mounted camera to call in illegal fishing operations if they see them."As we fly out here, we detect them with the radar and then we use other systems like a camera to identify them," U.S. Coast Guard Chief …
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