Conservationists Win New Shrimping Rules to Save Sea Turtles
Obama's Fishery Managers Propose to Close Deadly Loophole
As a result of a legal settlement with conservation groups, National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today proposed new protections for sea turtles that would require escape hatches in shrimp nets used by boats that operate in the shallow, inshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean.
The new regulations would close a deadly loophole that allows roughly 28,000 endangered and threatened sea turtles to be caught each year by shrimp boats that are currently not required to use “turtle excluder devices,” or TEDs. Download the proposed new regulation here. Public comment will be accepted for 60 days. The regulation would go into effect in March 2013.
“Finally closing this deadly loophole will give sea turtles another chance to escape drowning in shrimp nets,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org), an international marine conservation group with offices in the Gulf and California. “Based on available data, Gulf shrimping is the leading killer of sea turtles in the U.S. and the leading killer of the critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles.”
“We are delighted that the agreement lead to a proposal to help bring
these special creatures a step closer to the protection they need,” said
Jaclyn Lopez, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“The Fisheries Service has a duty to protect sea turtles from drowning
in nets; this proposed rule helps it move toward upholding that duty.”
“There are 28,127 reasons for requiring TEDs in skimmer trawls as soon as possible. According to Fisheries Service estimates, the skimmer fleet caught that many animals each year, and many die,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy at the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “While it shouldn’t have taken our lawsuit to get this proposed rule out, it has. The Fisheries Service now needs to move expeditiously to make it happen.”
The proposed regulation is intended to address sea turtle captures in skimmer trawls — fishing equipment, used primarily in bays and estuaries, that are currently exempt from using TEDs. TEDs prevent turtles from drowning in nets, but limited applicability and lax enforcement are thought to have led to thousands of deaths in 2010 and 2011.
Currently, skimmer trawls can use tow-time restrictions instead of TEDs. Tow times limit the amount of time shrimpers can keep their trawls in the water, but evidence is mounting that even when these restrictions are followed, skimmers drown turtles. The proposed rule would abandon the tow time restrictions and require skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls and wing nets to use TEDs.
This gear is only used in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and North Carolina. Florida already requires vessels employing this gear to use TEDs. Among the remaining states, approximately 2,435 active vessels have been identified that use this gear (2,248 in Louisiana, 62 in Mississippi, 60 in Alabama, and 65 in North Carolina).
Last year, more than 3,500 sea turtles turned up dead or injured in
the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean. NMFS linked many of
those sea turtle strandings to drowning in shrimp fishing nets. However,
because strandings represent only 5 percent to 6 percent of the turtles
actually killed in shrimp nets, scientists estimate tnes of thousands
of turtles died in shrimp nets last year. In addition to issuing the proposed rule, NMFS agreed to complete
its long-overdue analysis of the impacts of shrimp trawling on
threatened and endangered marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and
southeast Atlantic Ocean.
“The number of dead turtles we saw in 2010 and 2011 was unprecedented, and today’s settlement will help make sure that type of catastrophe doesn’t happen again,” said Sierra Weaver, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “We look forward to the Fisheries Service fully complying with the Endangered Species Act and to Gulf waters becoming safer for these remarkable animals.”
Conservation groups reaching the settlement include the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Defenders of Wildlife. The groups were represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.
Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org) is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 55,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit
conservation organization with more than 350,000 members and online
activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild
Sea Turtle Conservancy works to ensure the survival of sea turtles within the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific through research, education, training, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend. www.conserveturtles.org
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit www.defenders.org