Associated Press in New Orleans, Louisiana, posted the following news story on February 6, 2012, in response to our petition calling for reversal of the state’s TEDs enforcement ban.
By JANET McCONNAUGHEY
NEW ORLEANS, La. — Twenty-six conservation groups say Louisiana should repeal a 24-year-old law forbidding state wildlife agents to enforce a federal law requiring trap-doors for turtles in shrimp nets.
The law, passed in 1987, states that Louisiana won’t enforce the federal law until turtle excluder devices have been thoroughly and scientifically tested.
Shrimpers across the Gulf of Mexico fought the rules bitterly, saying they’d lose up to 40 percent of their catch in a business with slim margins. In one 1989 protest, hundreds of shrimp boats blocked ports along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.
“Louisiana needs to show respect for the Endangered Species Act and sea turtle protections that Congress put in place,” Carole Allen, Gulf director of SeaTurtles.org, said in a news release Monday. “The image of Louisiana as well as its marine resources and fishermen will benefit, as TEDs have proven their value and their effectiveness in all the other Gulf states over the decades.”
“It’s time our state joined the 21st century,” said Jeff Dorson, director of the Humane Society of Louisiana. “I believe our law enforcement officers want to stop sea turtles from drowning in shrimp trawls but our old state law won’t let them. We need to change that.”
The conservation groups say decades of research have shown turtles drown in trawls without TEDs, and the devices keep turtles from drowning while costing 3 percent or less of the shrimp catch.
Shrimpers say they follow the rules and do all that’s reasonable to save sea turtles, though they also say TEDS let out much of their legitimate catch. Some accuse the national fisheries service of faking data to falsely blame the sea turtle deaths on fishermen.
The groups signing the letter sent Monday range from Greenpeace to the Piney Woods Wildlife Society, whose members are mostly from two Houston-area counties in Texas. A letter to Gov. Bobby Jindal says they represent more than 14 million members.
Jindal never answered a similar letter sent in September by SeaTurtles.org, also called the Sea Turtle Resctoration Project, nor one sent in November that had been signed by 75 scientists from 14 states, Allen said in emails.
Jindal vetoed a 2010 bill that would have repealed laws against enforcing federal laws calling for nets to include TEDs or fish excluder devices while expanding the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ ability to work on saltwater and finfish conservation programs.
The 2010 measure passed with only one “nay” vote in the House, and none in the Senate. Jindal wrote that the bill appeared well intended, but the BP oil spill might have kept people in the fishing business from saying what they thought of it.
“Any legislation affecting Louisiana’s fishing industry should be thoroughly discussed and deliberated on by all stakeholders involved, including the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force and other industry stakeholders. Our priority is helping our shrimpers, fishermen and coastal communities get back on their feet after facing the worst oil spill in our nation’s history,” said Frank Collins, Jindal’s press secretary, in an emailed response Monday.
Scientist Chris Pincetich said SeaTurtles.org has been focused on the Gulf of Mexico since huge numbers of dead sea turtles washed ashore in 2010 and 2011. Dissection of those still intact enough for the procedure indicated that most had drowned, likely in shrimp trawls.
“It really brought laser-like focus into the Gulf for our organization to understand and improve conditions,” Pincetich said.
Although most of the dead turtles have been found in Mississippi, Pincetich said currents could have carried their bodies from other states. Besides, he said, it isn’t just boats from Mississippi that shrimp there.
“Enforcement agents in the home port can play an important role in ensuring that boats leave that port with legal gear. In Louisiana that won’t happen because enforcement agents are forbidden to inspect for TEDs,” he said.
Allen said supporting repeal of Louisiana’s law could make long-term political sense for Jindal, whose potential as a Republican presidential candidate has been discussed for several years.
“If he is interested in running for a national office one day i.e. President, it would be advisable to settle this conflict with the federal Endangered Species Act,” she wrote.