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Texas Law Enforcement Responds to Deaths of Endangered Sea Turtles

Between April 1 and May 22, 37 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, many of them juveniles, have been found dead on the Upper Texas Coast many in the Galveston area. Shrimping activity had increased during this period as it typically does in the spring. Although one or two may have been struck by a boat, there was no oil involvement and many were recorded as having “no obvious wounds or abnormalities” indicating that the turtles had been caught first in shrimp trawls. Others were missing flippers and heads.

Mike Ray of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Coastal Fisheries Division stated on May 25 that state law enforcement has responded to this high number of sea turtle strandings and has found at least six shrimp boats with Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) installed improperly. The angle that the TED is installed in the trawl is critical to its proper operation and ability to allow sea turtles to escape.

Almost 200 sea turtles were found on Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana beaches before shrimping was stopped due to the oil spill. According to a early report in the Mississippi Press, “Necropsies completed on five of 25 dead sea turtles found along Mississippi beaches showed no evidence of oil killing them.” (From The Times-Picayune May 3, 2010.) Improper use or lack of TEDs may not have been detected because law enforcement was involved in oil spill issues and not able to board shrimp boats.

Each year, the state of Texas in cooperation with the federal government closes shrimp fishing from the middle of May to approximately July 15 allowing shrimp to grow to more profitable sizes. This year because of the Gulf oil spill and the shortened shrimping season in the eastern Gulf, hundreds of out of state shrimp boats may enter Texas waters when the shrimping closure ends. Unless there is a heavy continued presence of both state and federal law enforcement with frequent boarding of shrimp boats to check their TEDs, there could be hundreds of sea turtles caught and drowned in Texas waters.