New Report Finds Sea Turtles in Atlantic and Gulf Threatened by Trawl Fisheries | Oceana

New Report Finds Sea Turtles in Atlantic and Gulf Threatened by Trawl Fisheries

Press Release Date: October 1, 2009

Location: Geneva, Switzerland


Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

A new report released by Oceana today concludes that although sea turtles have survived mass extinctions, they are simply ill-equipped to withstand the threats posed by destructive fishing gear, especially in trawl fisheries. Trouble for Turtles: Trawl Fishing in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico shows that an estimated 770 sea turtles are caught annually in Mid-Atlantic trawl fisheries alone.

Without an avenue for escape, sea turtles are likely to drown when captured in trawl gear. Luckily for sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) developed Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to help address this issue. However, NMFS has failed to require the use of TEDs in most trawl fisheries despite proof that they lead to a 97 percent reduction in sea turtle entrapment. And even with TEDs, sea turtles are still stressed, injured, harmed and even killed.

“Many believe that sea turtle bycatch in trawls was resolved with the requirement of TEDs in shrimp trawl nets nearly two decades ago, but that’s just not the case,” said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. “In order to protect and restore sea turtle populations, the government must require all trawl fisheries operating in areas with sea turtles to use properly sized TEDs.”

The Facts:


  • All six sea turtle species in U.S. waters are threatened with, or in danger of, extinction.
  • Loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and green sea turtles are most likely to be captured in Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico fisheries.
  • Any capture of sea turtles without government authorization is illegal.
  • Trawling is one of the most destructive and wasteful fishing methods because of its unselective nature.
  • Bottom trawl fisheries are the single greatest threat to loggerhead sea turtles.
  • Seasonal migrations along the coast put loggerheads directly in the path of trawl fisheries, resulting in a large number of casualties.

“The U.S. Government must take immediate action to drastically reduce the impact of trawl gear on sea turtles,” said Dave Allison, senior campaign director at Oceana. “We simply can not sit around and watch while species like the loggerhead go extinct.” Over the past decade, loggerhead sea turtle nesting in Florida has declined by approximately 50 percent.

Oceana’s report finds that although TED use has been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality in trawl fisheries, the majority are still not required to use them. The report identifies three steps, at a minimum, that must be taken promptly if we expect to protect and restore sea turtle populations:


  1. NMFS must require the use of properly sized TEDs in all trawl fisheries operating in seasons when, or locations where, sea turtles are thought to be present. This includes all state and federal waters, all types of trawls and all target species.
  2. TED regulations must be paired with adequate enforcement and observer coverage.
  3. In addition to requiring TEDs, which do not reduce the number of interactions with fishing gear, just the severity, NMFS should require time and area closures for at least locations with high sea turtle abundance.

A copy of Trouble for Turtles along with a petition signed by more than 7,000 concerned citizens was sent to President Bush this week asking for immediate action to better protect sea turtles.