Today, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross finalized a new rule to prevent sea turtle deaths in select U.S. shrimp trawls in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. The new rule will require Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) – metal grates inserted into shrimp nets that are 97 percent effective at allowing sea turtles to escape – in more than 1,000 additional shrimp vessels, which would save as many as 1,150 endangered and threatened sea turtles every year. While the final rule is a step in the right direction, the agency reversed course on the original proposal that would have protected more than 1,000 additional turtles per year by requiring TEDs on even more fishing vessels. Although TEDs have been required on otter trawl vessels for decades, about half of the shrimp fleet have been exempted from the TED requirement until now.
These new regulations were developed as a response to a 2015 Oceana lawsuit alleging that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to 1) determine whether shrimp fishing in the Southeast region puts sea turtles at risk of extinction; 2) monitor the impact of shrimp fishing on sea turtles; and 3) set a limit on how many sea turtles can be caught and killed.
Oceana fishery campaign manager Gib Brogan released the following statement in response to the final rule:
“Oceana has campaigned for years to save more sea turtles in U.S. waters by requiring TEDs in all shrimp trawls. This new rule is a step forward for sea turtles and for the American shrimp industry. With the simple solution of requiring more shrimp boats to use TEDs, we will improve the survival and recovery of sea turtle populations, as well as make our domestic shrimp fishery more sustainable, bolstering trust in American fisheries.
However, more work still needs to be done. The finalized rule means that thousands of vessels will continue to operate without TEDs and up to 1,342 endangered and threatened sea turtles will continue to be caught and drown in nets each year, even though a solution exists that has been tested in this fishery.
Protecting sea turtles and promoting responsibly managed fisheries are not mutually exclusive. The effective use of TEDs by shrimp fishermen is important to the future of the fishery and the continued survival of sea turtles. Wild-caught, domestic shrimp has the potential to be a sustainable choice if the U.S. seafood and fishing industries just make a few simple changes.”
In addition to saving sea turtles, TEDs have been proven to reduce bycatch of other animals, including recreationally and commercially valuable fish and sharks. By requiring TEDs in more trawls, the government will decrease pressure on struggling U.S. fisheries, reducing millions of pounds of wasted seafood.
The regulations announced today will be effective in April 2021.
To learn more about Oceana’s work to protect sea turtles, please visit www.oceana.org/TEDsForAllTrawls.