NOAA Denies Oceana Petition
On August 3rd, NOAA denied the final of three separate petitions from environmental groups that sought emergency closures or restrictions of shrimp fishing due to a large number of unexplained sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico. The strong actions of the agency are a huge victory for the shrimp industry. The final denial letter ends the short-term threats of complete or time-area fishery closures and new requirements of TEDs on skimmer trawls.
The letter from NOAA responding to Oceana relies heavily on analysis provided by the Southern Shrimp Alliance to senior officials. The data show that the spike in turtle deaths occurred during the periods of lowest shrimp effort.
The environmental groups, led by the Turtle Island Restoration Network, Center for Biological Diversity, and Oceana have threatened to file lawsuits against NMFS and may still seek injunctive relief from the Court. However, the detailed letter from NMFS will substantially undermine the basis for any lawsuits.
SSA Comments on Scoping Documents
In response to the unusually high number of sea turtle strandings, the BP oil spill, and recent environmental petitions, NMFS began a regulatory process to “promulgate 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 for preparation of a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The first purpose of this scoping process should be to determine if the scientific facts clearly support the need to reduce sea turtle mortality in the shrimp fisheries and if so, only then evaluate what measures, regulatory or otherwise, might be appropriate to achieve that objective.
There remain serious, unanswered questions and uncertainties concerning a range of issues pertinent to this scoping process. Perhaps most notable is the apparent lack of linkage between reported sea turtle strandings and shrimp fishing effort, and whether a long-term management response to what appears to have been a one-time event in June 2010 is warranted. Due to these uncertainties and lack of empirical data, SSA contends that the ‘no action’ alternative may be the only viable option until the Agency is able to fill in many of these gaps.
Other alternatives proposed in the Scoping Document include requiring TEDs in skimmer trawls and time-area fishery closures. SSA will remain active in the regulatory process on behalf of U.S. shrimp fishermen.