IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM JOHN WILLIAMS ON TED COMPLIANCE
Although our shrimp fishery has been well known and respected for its high level of compliance with TED requirements, something has changed. Don’t shoot the messenger, but our fishery’s TED compliance rate has fallen sharply from the 97 percent compliance rate we were all so proud of—and which has allowed our fishery to continue fishing under the strict rules of the Endangered Species Act.
At first I was very skeptical myself, but I’ve now seen more and more data from people I trust confirming that a surprising percentage of boats in several states have been found with a wide range of TED violations over the past year or two. These include TEDs sewn shut or no TEDs at all, too high an angle above 55 degrees, small leading edge cuts, bar spacing problems, escape openings too small, among others. Some of these violations may seem to us as merely ‘technical’ and would have little practical effect on protecting sea turtles; but others are obviously much more serious.
There may be many reasons for this. Perhaps its economics where low shrimp prices and a poor economy make some fishermen think they can do better by cutting corners on TED compliance. Maybe it’s justified anger over the BP oil spill, or feeling victimized by unfair treatment in the press or by our government. In many cases it may be due to an unintentional misunderstanding of the requirements– or to the reality that TEDs can be manufactured and installed correctly but fall out of technical compliance due to the normal ‘wear and tear’ of being fished.
HOWEVER–the hard reality is that it really doesn’t matter why. It doesn’t matter what the reasons are or whether some violations seem minor or technical. Until the TED regulations are changed or abolished, it’s our legal obligation and responsibility to be in compliance. In the eyes of the law, all that matters is that we are having a significant TED compliance problem. And, plain and simple, that problem is seriously threatening the future of our fishery.
Very recently, the environmental NGO’s put NMFS on notice that they intend to file a lawsuit over our TED compliance problem. While the Southern Shrimp Alliance is working every day to do everything possible to address this on many levels, the truth is that unless our fishery takes this seriously, this lawsuit could shut down every one of us. We need to come together as a fishery and fix this problem—all of us.
It may seem that when another shrimper gets a TED violation, it is just too bad for him–that it doesn’t really matter to you. But, that is absolutely wrong. TED violations greatly affect all of us whether we are in compliance or not.
Although our fishery sometimes accidentally catches threatened or endangered sea turtles, and sometimes those turtles drown, the shrimp fishery is allowed to continue to operate under a special provision of the Endangered Species Act—but only so long as we remain in strict compliance with all of the TED rules to reduce the number of drowned turtles to an absolute minimum. That means all the rules– angles, flaps, openings, floats and everything else.
If we don’t—or if the guy down the dock doesn’t—it puts our entire fishery at a very real and serious risk of being shut down. Your fishery, my fishery—everybody’s shrimp fishery.
Every time someone gets a TED violation, that is another statistic that ends up in the hands of those that want to shut you down. The environmental NGOs have all the money they need to sue NMFS in an effort to force them to shut you down. The more TED violations there are, the easier it is for them to prove that our fishery is not in compliance with the TED rules and we should lose our right to fish under the Endangered Species Act.
The same is true for dead turtles washed up on the beach. While we all know that turtles end up as strandings on the beach for many different reasons, we also know some do accidentally die in the shrimp fishery. And, no matter what we say– or even what the honest experts may say– about all those other reasons why turtles wash up on the beach, some people will pin every dead turtle on our backs. For them it’s always going to be the shrimpers fault– UNLESS we can prove we have a very high rate of compliance. That will force them to look for other reasons why turtles are stranding. So, just like with violations, the more dead turtles there are on the beach, the easier it is for our enemies to take our fishery away from us—especially if they know we have some folks out of compliance. So the best way to get them to look at the “other causes” is to show that our TEDs are in compliance because the more TED violations there are, the more they are going to be looking only at us.
I am just as angry as many of you are about the way the press and some folks at NMFS have been so quick to hang the entire turtle issue around our necks. It’s been completely unfair and in some cases downright irresponsible. There are so many unknowns and possible causes for sea turtle strandings ranging from the oil spill itself to dredging, other fisheries, disease and the fact that the Kemps Ridley turtle population appears to be exploding given the nesting activity we’re seeing on the beaches this year. The more turtles there are out there, the more that will die from a multitude of causes and end up on the beach. Many of the strandings have occurred in areas where shrimp fishing effort was very low or even non-existent.
There is no doubt that we are not THE sea turtle problem and there are good, honest people at NMFS who will say that. But, we have to accept responsibility for being a part of it and so we also have to be part of the solution. That means everybody needs to be in compliance with TEDs.
So don’t be fooled — when your ‘partner’ down the dock is out of compliance—and gets a violation—or when he accidentally drowns a turtle—if affects YOU—not just him. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. So long as the statistics show that some in our fishery are out of compliance with TEDs, you can be sure we will all get blamed for all the dead turtle on the beach. We need to get that word out to everyone with a shrimp boat.
The bottom line is that when it comes to TEDs, we all stay afloat—or we all go down—together.
Here are some things you should do:
1) Don’t go fishing unless you are sure you are in compliance first. You can ask the NMFS Gear Management Team folks to inspect your TEDs and work with you to get them into compliance BEFORE you leave the dock–rather than wait for a law enforcement officer to board you and give you a ticket. I’ve discussed this many times with good people at NMFS and they want to work with our fishery to bring us into compliance. To make arrangements or if you have any questions, just call the NMFS Gear Management Team at their Pascagoula Lab. Contact Dale Stevens by phone at 228-549-1773 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) Don’t buy a TED from a netshop or anyone unless you know it is in compliance. Anyone who sells (or buys) an illegal TED is also in violation of the law.
3) Attend a NMFS TED workshop put on by the NMFS Gear Management Team folks scheduled in your area this summer. I know these guys. They’re good guys who understands our industry and wants to help. Below is the schedule of workshops currently scheduled. Call the Gear Management Team at 228-549-1771 for future workshop dates in your area:
Monday June 20 at 2:00pm; Port Isabel TX., Port Isabel Community Center, 213 Yturria
Tuesday, June 21 at 2:00pm; Brownsville, TX, Cameron County Courthouse, County Judge and Commissioners Courtroom, 1100 E. Monroe St, Dancy Building, Second Floor,
Wednesday June 22 at 7:00pm; Port Aransas, TX, Port Aransas Outdoor Pavilion at Roberts Pt. Park
Thursday June 23 at 7:00pm; Port Lavaca, TX, Extension Service Office (Bower Building)
4) Finally, don’t just look the other way when you see someone go fishing with illegal TEDs. Take responsibility. Tell them the truth—that they are hurting you and the entire fishery. They may put us all out of business. Get this word out to every shrimper you know.