Environmentalists Denounce the Plan as ‘Too Little Too Late” Vowing Court Action
After the lifeless carcasses of over 900 endangered sea turtles have washed up on Gulf beaches from Texas to Florida in the past few months, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has finally decided to consider action, announcing plans today to begin a lengthy process to address the carnage. This action comes after Turtle Island Restoration Network along with partner conservation groups, notified the agency May 31 of its intent to sue over the government’s failure to protect endangered sea turtles from entanglement and drowning in shrimp trawls.
“With nearly a 1,000 dead sea turtles already washed up on Gulf beaches, NMFS actions to start a multi-month process while the slaughter continues is unconscionable,” said Dr. Chris Pincetich of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
“The government knows that turtles die when there is shrimping activity, but they have delayed action for months,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director of Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “Even as scoping sessions are held, more turtles will die. This is too little, too late for hundreds of sea turtles.” She continued, “The government has always known that Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are needed on all types of shrimp trawls.”
Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that biologists at the federal agency were aware of the problem, but could not get decision-makers in their agency to act. An internal email between Fisheries biologists stated:
“A defeatist attitude has sunk in with regard to increasing/improving enforcement efforts and thereby improving TED compliance in the fishery. Basically nothing would be done unless a mandate came down from Dr. Lubchenco stating that this would be an enforcement priority.”
Federal inspectors in Louisiana found only 3 of 29 shrimping nets had legal TEDs, and 21 were found with TEDs which “would result in the capture and death of a sea turtle” including several of the escape hatches that were sewn shut. No fines or penalties were assessed by NMFS despite the obvious violations. Click here to download emails and TEDs inspection reports from the FOIA.
All five species of sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are endangered; yet, virtually no action has been taken to protect them after record numbers of dead turtles have been reported this Spring. The over 900 dead turtles that have washed ashore this year represents nearly 18,000 drowned turtles, according to NMFS’ own formula that assumes only one in 20 dead turtles will wash ashore and are found.
A statement from James Lecky, Director of the NMFS Office of Protected Resources, states that NMFS will evaluate a “range of reasonable alternatives” to reduce sea turtle bycatch and mortality in the shrimp fishery of the southeastern United States. They will consider requiring all skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls and butterfly trawls in the Atlantic and Gulf area to use TEDs in both state and federal waters.
“After sea turtles in the Gulf were hammered by the BP oil spill, they need more protection, not less, yet the very agency (NMFS) responsible for their protection has announced a plan designed to cover their butts, instead of taking the obvious action necessary to end the carnage,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network.
“NMFS has a legal obligation to close down shrimping until they can guarantee that they can enforce the law of the land– that every active shrimp net has a properly installed TED. If they don’t act to stop the massacre immediately, we’ll see them in Court very soon” Pincetich concluded.
Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization with offices in Texas and California whose 35,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.SeaTurtles.org.