Closing a Loophole by Mandating Escape Hatch for Turtles

Thanks to a turtle excluder device—a grid of bars that lets shrimp pass into the net but ejects large animals—this loggerhead turtle swims free - Photo from National Oceanic Atmosphere AdministrationThe National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is proposing to end an exemption that has allowed some shrimp boats to avoid the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)—apparently to the detriment of endangered sea turtles.

According to the NMFS, last year an unprecedented 3,585 sea turtles washed up dead in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern coast. The majority had drowned, most likely due to capture in shrimp nets. Federal regulations require most shrimp trawlers to use NMFS-approved TEDs. However, skimmer trawls (used primarily in shallow water) have been allowed to employ less effective and difficult to enforce “tow time restrictions”—setting limits on the amount of time shrimpers keep their trawls in the water in lieu of using TEDs on their nets. The new rule would extend the TED requirements to skimmer trawlers, as well.

Teri Shore of SeaTurtles.org says TEDs are “a simple and effective way of protecting sea turtles from the skimmer trawl fleet,” adding that “most shrimpers have been using TEDs for decades.” Nevertheless, some in Congress have taken steps to keep the proposed rule (and the turtles) entangled: Rep. Jeff Landry (R-LA) attached a rider to a House of Representatives spending bill in May that would block any federal funds from being used to enforce the rule. AWI has provided comments in support of the proposed rule-making.