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Fisheries Service Proposes Overdue Measures to Stop Sea Turtle Deaths

For Immediate Release

Contacts:  
Joanna McWilliams
Turtle Island Restoration Network
joanna@tirn.net

Jaclyn Lopez
(727) 490-9190
Center for Biological Diversity
jlopez@biologicaldiversity.org

Fisheries Service Proposes Overdue Measures to Stop Sea Turtle Deaths

Sea Turtles Get Second Chance to Swim Free of Shrimp Trawls

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— After more than four years of study, the National Marine Fisheries Service today proposed a rule to address sea turtle captures in skimmer trawls, nets used primarily in bays and estuaries that are currently exempted from requirements for turtle-excluder devices. The Fisheries Service previously proposed a rule in May 2012, finding the regulations necessary to prevent thousands of sea turtle deaths, but reneged after discovering that even with the devices small turtles could still get caught in the nets.

“Endangered sea turtles of all sizes should be protected from skimmer trawls. We support the Fisheries Services proposed rule that requires the use of Turtle Excluder Devices that specifically allows small sea turtles to escape deadly trawl nets, and return to the sea,” said Todd Steiner, Biologist and Executive Director of Turtle Island.

Shrimp trawling has for many decades been the primary threat to sea turtle survival in the United States. The shrimp trawl fishery incidentally captures and kills thousands of threatened and endangered sea turtles each year. Turtle-excluder devices, or TEDs, prevent turtles from drowning in nets, but limited applicability and lax enforcement have resulted in thousands of sea turtle deaths annually.

“Skimmer trawls were developed in the 1980’s and with tow times of 55-75 minutes they have drowned thousands of sea turtles,” said Joaine Steinhaus, the director of the Gulf Coast for Turtle Island. “The industry has known for decades that TEDs would be implemented into the fishery, so what benefit exists to a phased in approach when all this will do is complicate enforcement.”

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. In May 2012 the Fisheries Service published a proposed rule that would have withdrawn tow-time restrictions and instead required that all shrimp trawls use TEDs. Though the agency had already conducted extensive TED testing in skimmer trawls, this summer observers aboard some vessels noted that TEDs were ineffective for some small sea turtles. Today’s proposed rule would require smaller spacing between the bars of the TEDs.

The proposed rule, published in May 2012, was the result of a settlement reached in response to a lawsuit brought by Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sea Turtle Conservancy, and Defenders of Wildlife. That lawsuit sought to address unprecedented high numbers of sea turtle strandings in 2011, when more than 3,500 of the increasingly rare animals turned up dead or injured in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean.

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Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 200,000+ members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For 25 years, Turtle Island Restoration Network has mobilized people to preserve oceans, restore rivers and streams, and protect the marine wildlife – from sea turtles to sharks – that call these blue-green waters home.  SeaTurtles.org

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.