Ever since the BP oil spill stopped shrimp fishing in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida, concern grew that hundreds of idle shrimp boats would travel to Texas in July. They would take advantage of the end of the annual two month state and federal shrimping closure when fishing is banned so shrimp can grow to more profitable sizes. The thought of hundreds of extra boats in Texas waters prompted the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) to ask for more law enforcement in both state and federal waters when the shrimping season opened. (Many requests were made through the STRP website.) Although turtle excluder devices (TEDs) are required on shrimp trawls by federal law, only a few boats without TEDs or with ones improperly installed are deadly for sea turtles that are caught and drowned.

As requested, there were increased numbers of law enforcement officers and vessels from Texas Parks and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Coast Guard when the shrimping season opened at sundown on July 15. In addition, a LightHawk plane with Sea Turtle Restoration Project staff flew over the shrimp fleet from the Sabine Pass to south of Corpus Christi. One shrimp boat was found fishing before the opening of the season and a report was made quickly to a NOAA law enforcement officer. A number of out-of-state boats were seen but not the large number that might have come from eastern Gulf states.

“The good news is that no stranded sea turtles were reported on the Upper Texas Coast during the first week of the shrimping season,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director for STRP. “The increased surveillance may also have stopped a deadly pattern of Kemp’s ridley deaths which began in April.”

Forty dead Kemp’s ridleys were found on the Upper Texas Coast between April 11 and May 22 according to information from the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network at the Padre Island National Seashore. Many showed no injuries or abnormalities, indicating their death was likely due to drowning in a shrimp trawl net. An additional seven were found dead during the last three weeks of the shrimping closure when there should have been no fishing at all.

Less than 20 dead or injured sea turtles of all species were found on the entire Texas coast Between July 11 and 24 which includes the first 10 days of the shrimping season. None of them were Kemp’s ridleys, the most endangered of all the species.

When thanked for the state’s response to STRP’s request for more law enforcement, Mike Ray of Texas Parks and Wildlife answered, “By the way, the heavy patrolling continues.”