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U.S. Halts Costa Rican Shrimp Shipments For Failure To Protect Sea Turtles

Many shrimp boats not using Turtle Excluder Devices and violators never punished

The U.S. State Department has banned Costa Rican shrimp from being shipped into the U.S. until further notice. The embargo is due to Costa Rica’s failure to enforce its laws that require commercial shrimp fishers to protect sea turtles from capture and death in trawl nets by using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). Most shrimp vessels that violated the law were never punished when found to be breaking the law, according to the statement by the State Department that is awaiting publication in the Federal Register.

Proper use of TEDs reduces the number of turtles caught in shrimp nets by 90% or more and is required to be used by any shrimp fishery that sells to the U.S.

“Costa Rica can make its shrimp fishery turtle-safe, or it can lose the privilege to sell shrimp to the U.S.,” said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, in Forest Knolls, CA www.seaturtles.org. “Shrimp fishers’ non-compliance with TED laws is a chronic problem occurring throughout the world.”

TIRN is also in negotiations with the U.S. government after submitting a 60-day notice of intent to sue the US Department of State for its failure to create a meaningful and transparent process of evaluating nations to ensure proper protection of sea turtles in shrimp fishing under Public Law 101-162 section 609 of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. This provision requires nations exporting shrimp to the U.S. to use comparable technology to ensure sea turtles do not drown in shrimp nets.

“The shrimp trawl industry doesn’t only ignore TEDs legislation, it also flagrantly violates legislation that prohibits fishing in marine protected areas”, said Randall Arauz, Pretoma’s president. “Without a national entity willing to enforce the country’s sea turtle protection laws, we’re left with no choice but to turn to nations that do,” meaning the United States.

The shrimp ban was also prompted by a petition submitted by Turtle Island Restoration Network’s sister organization in Costa Rica, Pretoma, that documented sea turtle violations by shrimp fishers and the lack of penalties for offenders.

Costa Rica’s shrimp trawl fleet numbers 55 boats and captures 15,000 sea turtles per year, the majority of which die by forced immersion. In 2008, Costa Rica sent 161 million pounds of shrimp to the U.S.

Over the last five years, 29 shrimp trawls have been caught either fishing without TEDs, using tampered TEDs, or with other serious technical problems that compromise their effectiveness to free turtles, this according to information obtained through the Costa Rican fishery agency, Incopesca and the Costa Rica Coast Guard National Service (SNG). In addition, over this same time several boats have been caught twice without their TEDs. None of the aforementioned cases has resulted in a sanction of any kind and all boats have been permitted to continue operating.

Each May 1, the State Department certifies countries that catch and sell wild shrimp to the U.S. The U.S. turtle-shrimp law (P.L. 101 162, section 609) requires nations who export shrimp to the U.S. to use ‘comparable’ sea turtle protection measures U.S. shrimpers are required to use, namely turtle excluder device (TED). A total of 15 countries whose shrimp fisheries operate in sea turtle habitat were certified.

The law, enforced since May 1, 1996, allows the U.S. to impose an embargo on the exportation of shrimp from countries whose shrimp trawl fleets do not use the Turtle Excluder Device (TED), a simple apparatus that allows sea turtles to escape from trawl nets without affecting the operation’s profitability. Costa Rica has suffered three trade embargoes since 1999, the last one in May of 2006, after the industry lost access to the United States’ lucrative market for one year.

To contact the U.S. State Department Office of Ocean Affairs, call (202) 647-2252

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international environmental organization founded in 1989 with offices in California, Texas, Costa Rica and Papua New Guinea that works to protect marine biodiversity and restore populations of sea turtles worldwide. For more information, visit http://www.seaturtles.org

PRETOMA is a Costa Rican-based environmental organization that works to promote responsible fisheries and community development while protecting marine biodiversity, especially sea turtles and sharks. For more information, visit http://www.tortugamarina.org

Turtle Island and PRETOMA often collaborate on projects of international significance using shared staff and resources.