turtle excluder devices
Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana.
This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposed regulation that would help prevent sea turtle deaths from shrimp fishing by requiring all skimmer trawls operating in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs).
Oceana and other concerned organizations welcome this exciting news after having asked NMFS to address ongoing sea turtle mortalities and enforce its own protective regulations that are crucial to the recovery and survival of these threatened and endangered species. Turtle excluder devices have effectively reduced the number of sea turtles that drown as a result of commercial fishing activities each year, and NMFS estimates that this new rule could save more than 5,500 sea turtles!
When properly attached to fishing nets, TEDs act as an escape hatch and allow captured turtles to swim freely away while shrimp accumulate in the net. However, many skimmer trawl boats have been exempt from TED requirements and were instead restricted to towing nets for shorter periods of time. Despite their proven effectiveness, it has taken many years for NMFS to require TEDs in fisheries that are known to harm turtles, with a long history of litigation surrounding this contentious issue.
Over the past few months we’ve been reporting how sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico have been drowning in shrimp nets in appalling numbers.
Well, we have an update today – and the news is mixed.
In response to the revelation this summer that hundreds of sea turtles were dying, the government has stepped up its enforcement effort. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAA’s enforcement officers inspected more than 444 vessels to see if they were equipped with turtle escape hatches (also known as turtle excluder devices, or TEDs).
The verdict? 371 of the boats had TEDs in compliance with the law – leaving 73 of them either without TEDs or with the hatches tied shut or improperly installed.
While we’re happy to hear that NMFS is keeping up with TED enforcement efforts, these new numbers mean that only 83% of the boats are following the rules in place for the Gulf shrimp fishery to protect sea turtles from extinction. And that is simply not good enough.
Learn more about Oceana’s sea turtle campaign and stay tuned!
I want to update you on a needless tragedy that continues to unfold in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
As I told you in May, Oceana uncovered government data showing that the shrimp fishery has been violating sea turtle protection rules, which likely has caused thousands of endangered sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic to be needlessly killed by shrimp trawls.
It’s been more than a month since our discovery, but the government is still standing by and watching as the sea turtles deaths continue.
Our campaigners uncovered official government documents showing that shrimp trawlers required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) are often using them improperly or not at all. TEDs are escape hatches for sea turtles, who need to reach the surface to breathe. The documents even show that some shrimpers have deliberately sewn TEDs shut—condemning any sea turtle they catch to death.
Shockingly, there are some types of shrimp trawls, like “skimmer trawls” that are not even required to use TEDs at all. Instead, these trawls are supposedly required to limit the length of time they tow their nets to prevent sea turtles from drowning. However, the government documents show that these time limits are not enforceable and demonstrate that TEDs should be required for these shrimp trawls as well.
In part as a result of pressure from Oceana, the government has announced that it will be conducting a formal analysis of the shrimp fishery’s impact on threatened and endangered sea turtles and will be considering options for additional protections.
This is a pathetically slow response. It is appalling that the fishery is allowed to continue operating despite evidence that shrimpers in the region are likely responsible for the death of record numbers of sea turtles. Oceana has called for the immediate closure of the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery until and unless adequate sea turtle protections are established and enforced.
Sea turtles have been swimming in the oceans for millions of years, and now they are being unnecessarily pushed toward extinction. It's time to give sea turtles a breather. The government should act immediately to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles.
Sea turtles have had a rough year. In 2010, more than 600 sea turtles were found either dead or injured on Gulf of Mexico shores, and 563 have already washed up just halfway into 2011.
This sudden spike in sea turtle mortality is due in part to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf in April, but Oceana has recently discovered that someone else may be to blame: the Gulf shrimp fishery.
Oceana recently found that the fishery is not currently required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which spare most sea turtles from getting caught and drowning in their skimmer trawls used for catching shrimp. This lack of proper regulation, coupled with the fishery’s noncompliance or ignorance of TED requirements for other types of trawls, has led to the enormous number of recent sea turtle deaths.
What you might not know is that under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) authorizes fisheries to injure or kill a specific number of sea turtles. More than 98 percent of all sea turtle interactions authorized to U.S. fisheries are given to the shrimp fishery.
Ever visited a sea turtle sick ward? I have, and it's an enlightening, if sad, experience. Here’s your chance to do so virtually. Oceana supporter and actress Lauren Norman visited a Florida sea turtle hospital and science center and made the video below about what she learned.
Lauren discovers the main reasons sea turtles end up in rehab (fishing gear, boat propellers and cold stunning) and what can be done to protect sea turtles from ending up tangled in fishing gear, such as the use of turtle excluder devices.
Inspired by Lauren’s video? Now take action to protect sea turtles by telling President Obama that the ancient mariners need comprehensive protections in U.S. waters. Thanks to Lauren and all of you for helping protect sea turtles!
Warning: what follows isn’t exactly light reading.
The New York Times reported yesterday on the complicated task of performing necropsies -- i.e., animal autopsies -- on sea turtles and other creatures that have been found dead in the Gulf of Mexico since the spill started.
It’s not easy to determine the cause of death of these creatures. Of the 1,978 birds, 463 turtles and 59 marine mammals found dead in the Gulf since April 20th, few show visible signs of oil contamination.
And in the case of sea turtles, a more familiar culprit may be at fault: shrimp trawls and other commercial fishing gear that scoop up turtles as bycatch and prevent them from going to the surface to breathe.
Here’s a simplified breakdown of how the veterinary investigators begin to determine the cause of death:
Most people wouldn't think of turtle excluder devices as joke fodder, but this week and next cartoonist Jim Toomey is devoting his comic strip, “Sherman’s Lagoon,” to sea turtles and those life-saving devices found in some fishing nets.
For the uninitiated, “Sherman’s Lagoon,” which appears in more than 250 newspapers in the U.S. and around the world, features a shark named Sherman and his sea turtle sidekick Fillmore. They and a cast of other reef dwellers try to get along while fighting the degradation of the oceans.