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Fishermen on Playa Bagdad prepare a gillnet used to catch sharks. Blood Treasure A Mexican shark fisherman lives to tell the tale of an illegal industry gone overboard. by Kevin Sieff 0 n the morning of March io, Andres Hernandez crawled ashore on South Padre Island, spitting saltwater and blood onto the sand. His clothes were soaked, torn, falling off his slim frame. He tried to get the attention of tourists sunbathing on the beach, but they ignored him. “They thought I was drunk,” he recalls. “They looked the other way.” Hernandez, 43, had swum for ii hours after his small fishing boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico around midnight. In the darkness, he and two other fishermen flailed amongst their catch: more than loo bloodied sharks, some still struggling for life. “I was sure we were going to be eaten,” Hernandez says. He paddled frantically, not sure if he was moving closer to land or farther out to sea. Within minutes, he’d lost sight of the 8 THE TEXAS OBSERVER AUGUST 21, 2009 other fishermen and the sharks. Around ii a.m., Hernandez stumbled toward the island’s high-rises, squinting at crowds of spring-breakers. He needed to tell someone that his friends were still lost at sea, that he desperately needed help. Hernandez also feared he would have to answer a question that could complicate everything: What was he doing in American waters? Hernandez lives on Playa Bagdad, a beach just south of the U.S.-Mexico border, where 25-foot fishing boats called lanchas and ramshackle huts line the shore. In front of his one-room shanty, dogs pick at discarded shark carcasses. A few hours before it sank, Hernandez’s lancha was parked here, loaded with more than 800 yards of fishing line. Fifteen miles of farmland separate the beach from Matamoros, the city of 1.2 million across the border from Brownsville, and South Padre Island, where Hernandez washed up. Despite its