The Beacon

Gulf Shrimpers to Blame for Record-High Sea Turtle Deaths

A loggerhead sea turtle hatchling in North Carolina. © Oceana/Cory Wilson

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.

The U.S. shrimp fishery is currently allowed to catch more than 340,000 sea turtles, most of which have been thought to escape through TEDs. NMFS assumed that TEDs are 97 percent effective and authorized the shrimp fishery to kill 1,451 loggerhead sea turtles. If, as the evidence in the NMFS documents obtained by Oceana suggests, poor compliance with the TED requirements decreases the effectiveness rate to 60 percent, the estimated number of loggerheads killed jumps to a shocking 19,348.

And unless the fishery is held accountable, sea turtles will continue to suffer the consequences. So what should be done? Oceana suggests that NMFS require all trawls to have TEDs and to ramp up its enforcement of current regulations.

You can help by telling your Representative to support comprehensive sea turtle protections.

 


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