Game Wardens bust massive illegal fishing ring near Houston

Commercial fishing of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico is highly regulated.
Commercial fishing of red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico is highly regulated. KRT

Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Bust a man’s alleged underground seafood ring, and, well, we forget the rest.

Texas Game Wardens allege that Houston restaurateur Bruce Molzan been operating an underground — or is it, underwater? — seafood ring since 2013 that may have been the largest of its kind in Texas history. A Texas Parks and Wildlife release says Molzan’s network has funneled nearly 28,000 pounds of unlawfully-caught fish through a web of about a dozen unlicensed commercial fishermen for a profit of more than $400,000.

The illegal fish consisted primarily of highly-regulated red snapper, along with other protected game fish species, including tuna, amberjack, grouper and red drum. Game Wardens have issued more than 200 Class C misdemeanor citations related to the investigations, and are anticipating additional cases, per the release.

The scope of the investigation expanded a year ago when U.S. Coast Guard crews stopped an unlicensed commercial fishing boat in coastal waters near Freeport and found 488 red snapper, weighing approximately 1,900 pounds, onboard. the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) also filed felony charges against two recreational anglers in Freeport in connection with the case.

“This is a big deal and exemplifies the critically important work our Texas Game Wardens do to protect the state’s natural resources,” said Col. Craig Hunter, TPWD law enforcement director. “Not only did these unscrupulous actors violate recreational fishing regulations at an extreme level for personal profit, but they also circumvented restrictions and rules governing the possession, safe handling and sale of commercial aquatic products intended for human consumption. That is not something we in law enforcement will tolerate and we are confident these individuals will be prosecuted to the fullest extent the law allows.”

But it’s that extent with which the lawyer for Molzan’s restaurant, Ruggles Black, is picking a fight.

“The actual charges against Bruce Molzan and Ruggles in this investigation are buying from an unlicensed fisherman, not running an organized illegal operation as being falsely reported,” Joel Androphy said in a statement. “These are Class C misdemeanors, the equivalent of a traffic ticket. We are challenging these allegations in court and expect them to be dismissed. We look forward to resolving this matter expeditiously.”

According to the Houston Chronicle, this isn’t Molzan’s or his restaurant’s first taste of unwanted attention. He has sued former business partners for mismanaging money and infringing on trademarks, and has been sued under similar allegations. The waitstaff at a previous restaurant he owned staged a walk-out in 2011.

Fishermen off the coast of Hilton Head, S.C. spotted a giant manta ray swimming near the boat. Chip Michalove, owner of Outcast Sport Fishing, estimated it to be about 16 feet wide. CREDIT: Chip Michalove / Outcast Sport Fishing

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817