Contact: Deborah Long, 804.360.0074
NOAA Denies Petitions to Restrict Shrimping Due to Unexplained Sea Turtle Deaths
Tarpon Springs, FL—The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has denied three separate petitions that would have immediately shutdown the U.S. shrimp industry due to a large number of unexplained sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. The rationale provided by NMFS demonstrates there was little or no shrimp fishing activity during times of increased turtle strandings and is consistent with analysis of government statistics by the Southern Shrimp Alliance, a trade association representing the U.S. shrimp fishery.
The petitions filed by the Turtle Island Restoration Network (April 4), Center for Biological Diversity (May 31), and Oceana (July 19) falsely claimed that shrimpers are largely responsible for the more than 400 stranded turtles documented in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
“These environmental groups are attempting to hold thousands of hardworking shrimpers accountable for the deaths of sea turtles that occurred when the fishery was not active,” said John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.”Their continued efforts to stop shrimp trawling divert valuable time and resources from identifying the real cause of the unusual sea turtle strandings.”
Necropsies of some dead turtles revealed the presence of fluids and sediment in the turtles’ lungs, which was used to argue that the turtles drowned in shrimp trawls. Based on the findings of one veterinarian, the environmental groups sought to bypass the vetted regulatory process and seek emergency closures or restrictions of shrimp fishing; new rules requiring turtle excluder devices on all commercial shrimp trawls and nets, including skimmer trawls; and other costly and onerous regulations.
“If sediment is found in the lungs of stranded turtles both in the presence and absence of shrimp fishing, then it is obviously not valid evidence that shrimp fishing killed the turtles,” stated Williams. “There were only two shrimp trawl vessels operating—both of which were found to be in full compliance with federal turtle excluder device laws by the Mississippi Department of Resources—in March 2011 when a number of turtles were found stranded with sediment in the lungs.”
To grab headlines and drive action, Oceana shamefully overstated the shrimp industry’s responsibility for recent turtle strandings by extrapolating from the results of inspections intended to help fishermen identify technical problems with their turtle excluder devices during the offseason.
“Despite their best efforts, environmental organizations cannot ignore the U.S. shrimp industry’s long record of cooperation and leadership in sea turtle conservation efforts,” explained Williams. “The Southern Shrimp Alliance has an extraordinary record of taking full responsibility for legitimate problems in our fishery, and we expect both the problems and the solutions to be based on solid science-not political agendas.”
The Southern Shrimp Alliance launched a campaign in recent months in cooperation with NMFS directed at restoring full industry compliance with crucial laws regarding the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in fishing nets. The goal of the campaign, directed at shrimp fishermen throughout the Gulf and South Atlantic region, is to restore TED compliance to previous levels of ninety-seven percent. As a result of this cooperative campaign, compliance has increased rapidly and sharply as stated in NMFS rejection letter.
A copy of NOAA’s letter to Oceana can be found at: http://www.shrimpalliance.com/?p=877
While NMFS denied action in response to the petitions based on apparent lack of linkage between reported sea turtle strandings and shrimp fishing effort, the agency has started a long-term management response based on similar highly questionable arguments that could result in regulations to reduce the mortality of sea turtles in the shrimp fishery of the southeastern United States. On August 8th, SSA submitted detailed comments on the agency’s Scoping Document that can be found at: http://www.shrimpalliance.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/8-8-11-SSA-Comments-on-Scoping-document.pdf