Texas fish sting nets several Houston restaurants buying illegal fish

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Texas Game Wardens are cracking down illegal fish trade in markets after nearly 20 area fish markets and restaurants were cited for buying illegal seafood. (KTRK)

A state sting revealed an increasing number of fish markets and restaurants are buying illegal game fish.

Texas Fish and Wildlife said on Tuesday it wrote more than 150 citations to 19 Houston area businesses.

For two years, disguised agents tried to sell illegal game fish, including red snapper, catfish and red drum to 40 businesses.

During a similar sting five years ago, the state says only nine businesses took the bait.

Some of the game fish is heavily regulated.

A process Katie's Fish Market in Galveston knows well.

"We pretty much inspect the fish as it comes off and when can tell if the fish has been taken care of or not," Katie's Fish Market manager Nick Gutierrez said.

In order for his fishermen to catch red snapper, there is a lengthy process his crews go through.

Fishermen notify state and federal officials when they leave shore.

They're tracked while fishing.

Then, when they return, officials look at how much they caught.

"There's a limited amount you can catch. Everyone has their own shares of what they can catch and all that stuff," Gutierrez.

Because of this, it can impact price.

Which is why Gutierrez believes a black market exists for others to make a profit.

"I'm glad that the state is catching these people and putting everybody at an even playing field," Gutierrez said.

It's a sting not just to make it an even playing field, but to make sure the fish consumers buy is safe.

Gutierrez said when buying fish check to make sure the eyes are not foggy.

"Lastly, what you can do is look at the gills," Gutierrez said. "Make sure the gills are deep red, and not grey."

As for the state's sting, officials won't release what businesses were caught.

They say the investigation is ongoing, and more businesses could be cited.
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