New rules aim to require more shrimp boats in the Southeast to use Turtle Excluder Devices
Skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls, and wing net shrimp boats included
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to require more shrimp fishermen to use "turtle excluder devices." The devices are metal grates that allow turtles to escape the boats' nets. The TEDs originally were required to be used by commercial shrimp vessels in 1987. Now the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association propose withdrawing an exemption for several different types of shrimp vessels. That would mean all skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls, and wing nets (butterfly trawls) would also be required to use TEDs while trawling for shrimp. According to Oceana, Less than half of the U.S. shrimp fleet is currently required to use TEDs; however, this proposed rule would extend the requirement to about 5,800 other boats in the region currently exempted.
The fisheries service announced the proposed rules Thursday. They will be subject to a public comment process through mid-February. More shrimp fishermen would have to use nets equipped with turtle escape hatches, to prevent sea turtle deaths, under proposed new federal rules. The bulk of the affected types of shrimp boats are in the Gulf, especially in the panhandle of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.
Thursday was the deadline for the federal government to propose regulations to protect turtles under a settlement with the conservation nonprofit Oceana.
Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder released the following statement in response to the newly proposed rule:
“Oceana commends the Obama administration for taking this historic step to protect sea turtles in U.S. waters, which has been decades in the making. With the simple solution of requiring shrimp boats in the Southeast to use TEDs, we would dramatically improve the survival and recovery prospects of sea turtle populations, as well as protect the livelihoods of thousands of American shrimp fishermen who lose markets and profits due to the “red-listing” of their products.
Currently, 13,000 restaurants and stores across the United States refuse to source shrimp that are red-listed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which analyzes the sustainability of seafood products. It is likely that by requiring TEDs in these vessels, this red-listing would be lifted, thereby opening new markets to U.S. shrimpers.
Recent news stories have highlighted that imported shrimp can be tied to human trafficking and public health concerns. This rule will help make our domestic shrimp fishery more sustainable, allowing Americans to feel confident in choosing the better alternative of U.S. wild-caught shrimp. Today’s announcement is a win for sea turtles and a win for the American shrimp industry, bolstering the reputation of domestic-caught shrimp as a safe, legal and sustainable product.”
Oceana sued the government in April 2015, arguing that government estimates indicate that more than 500,000 sea turtles get caught in shrimp nets each year, and more than 53,000 of them die.
Local shrimp boat captain Lanier Gore explains that TEDs can affect the bottom line for shrimp companies. "Some will argue that the TED causes a reduction in not only the by-catch, but also of shrimp. They are expensive. The ones that I pull are about $600 each, and I am required to have four. The round TEDs over time will loose their (shape) regulatory setting, and that will cause you to loose more of your catch and also get a hefty fine if you are boarded and the required measurements aren't met. They have designed a new TED that does not lose its shape or setting, but they are even more expensive and haven't been proven to catch as much or more than the round TEDs. The main issue we have with the TEDs is that they must be constantly checked and maintained to make sure you aren't loosing your catch. A stretched TED will lay down while trawling, causing the flap to partially remain open, losing a big portion of your catch."
Capt. Gore also explained that often times the skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls, and wing nets are part of smaller shrimp operations, not as large as the outfits that are already required to utilize TEDs, and incurring the cost of purchasing and maintaining TEDs could have a more dramatic impact on their bottom line.
Shrimp boat Captains are not the only ones seeking improved TEDs, Oceana also hopes for improvements in the device- but for different reasons. In May, Oceana released a new report calling on the Obama administration to implement a “simple solution” to ensure domestic, wild-caught shrimp are more sustainably caught. Over the last two years, the federal government has developed and tested a new, improved TED with smaller bar spacing (reduced from 4 to 3 inches) that could help save smaller sea turtles and reduce unwanted fish bycatch by an additional 25 percent. The new rule proposed today, however, does not implement this solution for U.S. shrimp vessels already required to use TEDs.
Copyright 2016 by WJXT News4Jax. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.