Every time you sit down at a restaurant you are committing an act of trust. As we navigate menus, place orders and consume meals, we assume that the restaurants we’re dining at are acting in good faith, following all the rules and regulations that come with owning a dining establishment. We don’t get video of the farm-to-table path that vegetables take or ask to see the receipts to check if the meat really came from a certain farm or ask for the backstory on the catch of the day. We assume that everything is on the up and up.
Things are not on the up and up for the 19 local fish markets and restaurants who’ve been issued more than 150 citations for purchasing illegal game fish. These establishments made the poor choice of not just illegally purchasing game fish, but doing so from undercover officers in a sting conducted by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Law Enforcement Division.
Over a two-year period, wardens in plain clothes offered to sell Texas saltwater fish—including spotted sea trout, red snapper, and catfish—to seafood markets and restaurants along the Texas coast. Nearly half the establishments they approached agreed to buy, which is up from around 25 percent of businesses that wanted to buy during a similar operation conducted from 2010-2012.
The goal of this operation, according to Maj. Chris Davis, the head of TPWD’s law enforcement special operations, was to disrupt the influx of illegal fish trade. While conservation is certainly something TPWD cares about—the illegal fish trade can damage the long-term health of Texas fishery—they’re also looking out for the health of Texans.
“Not knowing where the fish came from, how they were handled, poses potential health risks for the buyer and the end user,” said Col. Grahame Jones, TPWD Law Enforcement Division director, in a statement. “Without documentation of when that fish was caught, there are no guarantees, and that gives those who participate legally in the industry a bad rap.”
As of this writing, the names of the 19 businesses facing citations have not been released.