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North Carolina First to Tackle New Sea Turtle Protections in Shrimp Fleet

Morehead City, NC – May 30, 2012, 2pm-4pm

Federal fishery officials will hold the first public hearing on closing a loophole in current shrimp fishery laws to protect sea turtles in Morehead City, NC, from 2 to 4 p.m. May 30 at the Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3505 Arendell Street.

The proposed new regulation will require Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in North Carolina and all U.S. shrimp boats that fish with skimmer trawl gear used primarily in bays and estuaries. The skimmer trawl gear is currently exempt from TEDs requirements. About 65 skimmer trawl vessels operate in North Carolina.

“Closing the deadly loophole in TEDs laws will prevent thousands of sea turtles from needlessly drowning in shrimp nets,” said Teri Shore of SeaTurtles.org. “It’s a simple and effective way of protecting sea turtles from the shrimp fleet.”

More than 28,000 sea turtles are captured each in skimmer trawl nets used in the U.S. shrimp fleet. Many drown, some survive. 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 death toll is much higher. On average, a total of 468 sea turtles strand in North Carolina each year.

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. 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).

Sea turtle nesting season is now underway in North Carolina beaches, where hundreds of volunteers watch every day for sea turtles laying there eggs. So far this year 81 sea turtle nests have been located. About 1,000 nests are laid each year on North Carolina beaches, mostly by loggerheads with a few leatherbacks and greens. Last year 967 nests were laid by 338 females. (Source seaturtle.org http://www.seaturtle.org/nestdb/?view=1)

The full schedule of public hearings is as follows:

Morehead City, NC – May 30, 2012, 2pm-4pm, Crystal Coast Civic Center, 3505 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557.
2. Larose, LA – June 4, 2012, 6pm-8pm, Larose Regional Park and Civic Center, 307 East 5th Street, Larose, LA 70373.
3. Belle Chasse, LA – June 5, 2012, 4pm-6pm, Belle Chasse Community Center, 8398 Highway 23, Belle Chasse, LA 70037.
4. D’Iberville, MS – June 6, 2012, 4pm-6pm, L.H. “Red” Barnett Senior Center, 10450 Lamey Bridge Road, D’Iberville, MS 39540.
5. Bayou La Batre, AL – June 13, 2012, 2pm-4pm, Bayou La Batre Community Center, 12745 Padgett Switch Road, Bayou La Batre, AL 36509.

Photo/Tarek Chowdhury