Fishing Gear Is Primary Threat to Sea Turtle Survival

WASHINGTON —Turtle Island Restoration Network ( today jointly petitioned the federal court in Washington, D.C., to hold the National Marine Fisheries Service accountable for its role in the shrimp trawl-related deaths of endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2011 alone, a shocking number of sea turtles – more than1,400 — have washed ashore dead or injured in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast Atlantic Ocean. The Fisheries Service has linked these deaths to drowning in shrimp fishing nets. Despite this rise in sea turtle by-kill from industrial shrimping and the devastating impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the Fisheries Service has not fulfilled its duty to protect these imperiled animals from harm.

“Gulf shrimp trawling continues to be a brutal, relentless killer of endangered sea turtles—there’s simply no other way to put it,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and Executive Director of  “For generations, industrial shrimping has been the leading cause of sea turtle death—an atrocity that is completely unnecessary, if shrimpers used the low-cost technology that has existed for over two decades.”

Click here for detailed information on sea turtle bycatch, shrimp trawl inspections, and sea turtle deaths. Click here to download the legal complaint filed today.

Such technologies, especially turtle excluder devices (TEDs) can help prevent turtles from drowning in the nets, but not all shrimpers are required to use them and still others simply don’t comply with existing regulations. Turtles in the Gulf of Mexico may be more vulnerable now to drowning in shrimp nets as a result of the BP spill and cleanup efforts. The shrimp trawl fishery incidentally captures and kills thousands of threatened and endangered sea turtles each year.

“The Fisheries Service is allowing this fishery to continue without requiring protections it knows can save turtles,” said Chris Pincetich of the Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Turtle excluder devices should be required now for all shrimpers.”

The Fisheries Service admitted in August 2010 that it needed to reassess the impact of the shrimp fishery on sea turtles in light of the dramatic increase in strandings, but it still has not finished that analysis. Then, following 379 sea turtle strandings – by government estimates only 5 to 6 percent of actual mortality – along the coasts of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana in early 2011, the Fisheries Service temporarily improved enforcement and announced that it would explore new rules to reduce sea turtle mortality. Meanwhile shrimp fishing continues as usual; the Fisheries Service has denied requests from the conservation groups for emergency measures to reduce the harm to sea turtles.

The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to ensure that its actions do not jeopardize the continued existence of endangered species and to respond to evidence of new threats to their survival. Today’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to protect sea turtles in the wake of a huge increase in strandings and seeks to establish protections for the turtles, including increased enforcement and observer coverage to reduce turtle deaths from shrimp trawls; closure of sensitive areas to shrimp trawling; and broader requirements for shrimp boats to use turtle-excluder devices to allow turtles to escape drowning in all types of trawl gear.

Conservation groups filing today’s suit include the Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Sea Turtle Conservancy.


Turtle Island Restoration Network 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

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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

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.