Several environmental groups today formally notified the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) of their intent to sue if the agency does not require shrimp fishing vessels to use devices in their nets that allow endangered and threatened sea turtles to escape drowning. The federal government already requires shrimping vessels to use turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, to protect sea turtles, but larger turtles cannot fit through the TED openings and drown. Ten months ago, NMFS proposed a rule to require larger TED openings but has, to date, delayed issuing the final regulation that would implement the change. Today conservation groups filed a 60-day notice of intention to sue if the agency does not promptly issue the final regulation.
“The government has known since at least 1999 that the openings currently required on TEDs are too small to protect larger sea turtles such as leatherbacks and loggerheads,” stated Monica Goldberg, Senior Attorney for Oceana. “We are prepared to sue if necessary to save these endangered and threatened animals, but we would prefer that the agency stop stalling and issue these long overdue rules.”
“A record number of large loggerhead sea turtles washed up dead on beaches in Georgia this year, partly because shrimp vessels were using TEDs with openings that are too small,” pointed out Bette Stallman, Ph.D., Wildlife Scientist at the Humane Society of the United States, one of the groups signing the notice.
“Many stranded turtles were egg-bearing females, probably on their way to nest. Countless more sea turtles undoubtedly drowned and did not wash up onto the beaches. This is a serious problem and we know how to fix it,” added Todd Steiner, Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, also a signatory.
Requiring larger TED openings will not impose significant economic burdens on fishers. Many shrimpers in Georgia have used TEDs with larger openings for years with minimal shrimp loss. NMFS data suggest that properly installed and operated TEDs with larger openings lose between zero and two percent of shrimp caught. Many shrimpers could alter the nets on their own at a cost of less than $20 per net. For those who must buy new equipment, the costs range from $45 to $200.
“Many shrimpers already use TEDs with larger openings, and they should be required in all areas,” said Brendan Cummings, Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which also signed the letter. “A comprehensive regulation would eliminate the need for costly shrimp fishery closures and reactive emergency rules, which NMFS now uses after large numbers of sea turtles wash up dead on the beaches.”
“In the InterAmerican Sea Turtle Convention, the United States made a commitment to promote the protection of sea turtles based on the best available science,” said Carroll Muffett, Director of International Programs for Defenders of Wildlife. “The best available science is absolutely clear: TED openings must be larger, or sea turtles will continue spiraling toward extinction.”
For a fact sheet about TEDs, call Robert Kaplan at (202) 478-6130.
About the signatories
Oceana is a new international environmental organization created for the sole purpose of protecting the world’s oceans to sustain the circle of life. In May 2002, Oceana merged with the American Oceans Campaign to bring together dedicated people from around the world to build an international movement to save the oceans through public policy advocacy, science, economics, legal action, grassroots mobilization, and public education. www.oceana.org
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the nation's largest animal protection organization with over 7 million members and constituents. The HSUS is dedicated to protecting all animals through legislation, education, investigation, litigation, advocacy, and field work. The HSUS has active programs protecting wildlife, companion animals, farm animals, and animals in research. The HSUS is headquartered in Washington, DC and has 10 regional offices. www.hsus.org
The Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) has worked since 1989 to protect and restore endangered sea turtles and marine biodiversity worldwide by integrating the ecological needs of marine species and the economic needs of local communities that depend on the marine environment. STRP is based in Marin County, California and has offices in San Jose, Costa Rica and Houston, Texas. www.seaturtles.org
Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native wild animals and plants in their natural communities. Long known for our leadership on endangered species issues, Defenders of Wildlife also advocates new approaches to wildlife conservation that will help keep species from becoming endangered. Our programs encourage protection of entire ecosystems and interconnected habitats while protecting predators that serve as indicator species for ecosystem health. As part of its mission, Defenders works to preserve populations of marine species that are at risk of extinction. www.defenders.org
The Center for Biological Diversity is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the preservation, protection, and restoration of biodiversity, native species, ecosystems, and public lands. www.biologicaldiversity.org