Ocean Conservation Groups Support Turtle Excluder Devices in Skimmer Trawl Fleet

WHAT: Federal fishery managers will hold a public hearing on a new proposal to close a deadly loophole in shrimp fishery laws to protect sea turtles.

D’Iberville, MS – June 6, 2012, 4pm-6pm, L.H. “Red” Barnett Senior Center, 10450 Lamey Bridge Road,

WHO: Conservation representatives in favor of the additional protections for sea turtles are available for interviews. Photos and B-roll available on request.
• Teri Shore, SeaTurtles.org, 415 663 8590 ext. 104; cell 707 934-7081, tshore@tirn.net www.seaturtles.org
• Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190, jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org, www.biologicaldiversity.org
• Carole Allen, Gulf Director, Sea Turtle Restoration Project, (281) 444-6204, carole@seaturtles.org
• Jeff Dorson, Humane Society of Louisiana, 901 268 4432, stopcruelty11@gmail.com, http://www.humanela.org/

NEWS and FACTS: The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is proposing to require turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in all shrimp boats that fish with skimmer trawls — gear used primarily in shallow coastal waters. About 62 skimmer trawls operate in Mississippi. TEDs allow sea turtles, finfish and other marine life to escape shrimp nets.

TEDs are required in all other types of shrimp trawl gear, but not yet in skimmer trawls. Download the Federal Register Notice in PDF here. The public comment period is open until July 9, 2012.

NMFS estimates that more than 28,000 sea turtles are captured each year in skimmer trawl nets used in the U.S. shrimp fleet in the Gulf of Mexico and Southeast coast. Of these, 6,482 drown each year. The new TEDs regulation will save an estimated 5,426 sea turtles, an 83 percent decrease in turtle deaths.

The new shrimp fishery regulations would apply in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and North Carolina — the only states currently using TED-free skimmer-trawl gear. Florida already requires vessels employing this gear to use TEDs. Texas prohibits the gear completely. About 2,435 active vessels have been identified that use skimmer trawl gear (2,248 in Louisiana, 62 in Mississippi, 60 in Alabama, and 65 in North Carolina).

The new regulations were proposed after unprecedented high numbers of sea turtles washed up dead in Mississippi and other Gulf states in 2010 and 2011. In 2011, NOAA reported 525 sea turtles stranded, most of them dead, in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. Of the total, 283 were in Mississippi. So far this year, 99 sea turtles have washed up dead in Mississippi.

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 enforcement is near impossible. 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.

“Closing the deadly loophole in shrimping laws will prevent thousands of sea turtles from needless injury and drowning in shrimp nets,” said Teri Shore of SeaTurtles.org. “It’s a simple and effective way of protecting sea turtles from the skimmer trawl fleet. Most shrimpers have been using TEDs for decades.”

”We’re encouraged that the Fisheries Service has taken this step to protect sea turtles. It acknowledges the harm that skimmer trawls cause and provides a public process for implementing safeguards for sea turtles and other marine wildlife,” said Jaclyn Lopez, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.

All six species of sea turtles in the United States remain at risk of extinction and are protected under the Endangered Species Act. While some populations are increasing, none have reached recovery goals to be delisted. Last year, an unprecedented 3,500 sea turtles turned up drowned or injured in the southeast Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Since only about 5 to 6 percent of dead sea turtles wash up on shore, the actual death toll is much higher.

The proposed new regulations resulted from a lawsuit settlement under the Endangered Species Act between the National Marine Fisheries Service and conservation groups including the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org), Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Defenders of Wildlife. The groups were represented by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic.