[Richard Gutting Commentary]
“Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch”
This week shrimpers and NOAA officials are debating whether turtle excluder devices must be used in skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls and wing nets – gear used by smaller vessels to catch shrimp in the shallow coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. Click here
NOAA argues TEDs are needed because sea turtle strandings spiked in 2010 and 2011 and because of a lawsuit settlement it negotiated with environmental NGOs.
Shrimpers argue they didn’t cause the turtles to strand and more TEDs will put them out of business — concerns shared by the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed a spending bill preventing NOAA from enforcing its proposal. Click here
Indeed, the facts don’t seem to add up —
- Most turtles stranded last year before shrimping began or at a time when few vessels were operating — suggesting that shrimping wasn’t the cause.
- Sea turtle nesting populations are growing “exponentially”, experts are “cautiously optimistic that the population is on its way to recovery”, and because of the 2010 BP oil spill, the number of beach patrols has grown. Click here So — with more turtles and more people looking for them, it’s not surprising that more strandings were reported.
- NOAA claims that necropsies on some of the stranded turtles found no oil — but Greenpeace just released gruesome NOAA photographs of oil-covered turtles, which the agency was forced to provide them under the Freedom of Information Act. Click here
All of which erodes confidence in the agency — and so does the agreement NOAA negotiated with the NGOs immediately before it proposed these rules. Under this agreement NOAA gained the political cover of a court order, and the NGOs will be awarded attorney fees in amounts that are not disclosed. Click here “Sue and settle” lawsuits like this one appear to give NGOs an “insider” advantage, finance more and more disruptive litigation, bypass proper rulemaking, and avoid basic principles of transparency and accountability.
So to sum it up — with sea turtle populations recovering rapidly and questionable linkages between shrimping and turtle strandings, it looks like the NGOs threw NOAA in the “briar patch” with a court order telling it to do — what it wanted to do anyway.
No wonder Congress wants regulatory reform. Click here
Richard E. Gutting, Jr.