One day this summer, the crew of one such fishing boat saw something unusual. Heading toward them was a sleek silver vessel boldly marked with the words “Texas Game Warden.”
It was Captain Murchison, an 80-foot aluminum catamaran with a maximum speed of 27 knots. When it’s running fast, the hydrofoil between its twin hulls lifts the bow partially out of the water.
The game wardens requested over a loudspeaker, both in English and Spanish, for the fishing vessel to stop. “It quickly did, because they were shocked. They had never seen a vessel like that before, as capable and maneuverable as it was,” said Cody Jones, an assistant commander with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
The wardens had a chance to talk with the fishing crew. “They mentioned to one of the game wardens that they knew they couldn’t outrun it, so they just gave up,” Jones recalled. Captain Murchison caught another illegal fishing crew the next day.
These interdictions are among the notable moments so far in the career of Captain Murchison, a high-powered patrol craft that is now the flagship vessel for the law enforcement division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, also known as the Texas Game Wardens.
Based in South Padre Island near the U.S.-Mexico border, Captain Murchison’s mission is to work with the U.S. Coast Guard to enforce fishing laws and to stop any other illegal activity the crew might encounter.
Texas has nearly 3,400 miles of shoreline, and state waters extend 9 nautical miles into the Gulf of Mexico. The state’s game wardens can work up to 200 miles into the Gulf through an agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to protect federal fisheries, as fishermen from Mexico will sometimes venture into U.S. waters without permission.
For decades, Texas Game Wardens have worked to stop exploitation of these sea resources. Historically, the agency has had three long-range boats. Two were purchased in the early 1980s, Jones said. One was Captain Williams, and the other boat was the original Captain Murchison.
The new Captain Murchison, like the first, is named for Dawson Murchison, a game warden shot and killed in 1938 while patrolling King Ranch for poachers. The original patrol boat was about 65 feet long, smaller than today’s 80-foot vessel, Jones said.
It also wasn’t specifically built for law enforcement purposes. Case in point: If the pilot of the original Captain Murchison wanted to board a vessel that the crew suspected was fishing unlawfully, the pilot had to back up to the suspect vessel, stern to stern. This was not only inefficient, but dangerous. Jones said that over the years, some game wardens were hurt doing the ship-to-ship jump.
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