SSA urgently reminds all Gulf and South Atlantic shrimp trawl fishermen that they are now subject to a new system for protecting sea turtles. As explained in further detail below, these new requirements are a result of the settlement earlier this year of a lawsuit filed by several environmental organizations against NMFS.
These new requirements place a new fleet-wide performance standard based on TED compliance which affects everyone in the fishery. The new performance standard is a maximum fleet-wide turtle capture rate of 12%. This currently applies only to otter trawls but may apply to skimmer and other trawls in the future.
This represents a profound change to the management of shrimp fisheries. In the past, sea turtle regulations assumed the shrimp fishery was in full compliance with TED requirements and that TEDs were 97% effective. TED non-compliance was then only a matter of individual vessel responsibility. Today, both the individual vessel and the entire fleet are held to a strict sea turtle capture rate performance standard that is based on an evaluation of fleet-wide TED compliance.
This is critically important so please pay attention to this. Fleet-wide TED compliance is now the most important issue facing our fishery and its legal ability to continue operating under the Endangered Species Act. Failure to achieve this new standard can lead to targeted enforcement and fishery closures, and will surely lead to more lawsuits designed to shut down our fishery entirely.
With this in mind, SSA urges every shrimp otter trawl vessel owner and operator to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that your TEDs are constructed, installed and operating in strict compliance with federal TED requirements. As in the past, SSA strongly encourages all vessel operators to contact the NMFS Gear Management Team before leaving the dock if there is any uncertainty about the TED requirements or if your TEDs are in compliance. To contact the NMFS Gear Management Team, please call Dale Stevens at: 228-549-1773.
SSA has requested NMFS to issue a Fishery Bulletin officially notifying shrimp trawl fishery of the full details of these critical changes and requirements. We will help distribute that when it is issued.
In June and July 2011, several environmental NGOs including Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and Turtle Island Restoration Network filed petitions with NMFS to close US shrimp trawl fisheries. These petitions attempted to link historically high numbers of reported Kemp’s Ridley turtle strandings to shrimp trawling activity, and to observed low levels of compliance with Turtle Excluder Device (TED) requirements.
SSA performed and submitted to NMFS a series of analyses of state and federal stranding and fishing effort data which disproved the link between shrimp trawl fishing activity and the vast majority of these strandings. NMFS subsequently denied the NGO’s petitions.
SSA also worked independently and in partnership with the NMFS Gear Management Team and Office of Law Enforcement to conduct extensive industry outreach and education through a long series of Town Hall meetings, workshops and other efforts that achieved substantial improvements to TED compliance rates in the fisheries.
Nevertheless, in October 2011, attorneys for four of the environmental NGOs filed a lawsuit against NMFS that once again demanded the closure of US shrimp trawl fisheries citing among other things insufficient compliance with TED requirements.
NMFS entered into settlement negotiations with the plaintiffs in this case which concluded in a settlement agreement in April 2012. On May 9, 2012, NMFS issued a new Biological Opinion under the Endangered Species Act which reflects the agency’s implementation of some of the more important terms of that settlement agreement including an entirely new regulatory approach for minimizing sea turtle captures in the shrimp trawl fisheries. Here is the link to that document: http://sero.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/endangered%20species/Shrimp%20Fishery/SoutheastShrimpBiop_Final.pdf
The most important of these new requirements is a system to measure and monitor the actual performance of the shrimp fisheries overall to exclude sea turtles from trawls. The new performance standard is that the shrimp fisheries must not exceed a 12 percent sea turtle capture rate. This capture rate is based on a fleet-wide extrapolation of observed non-compliance with specific TED requirements and the expected capture rates caused by those specific TED violations. Each type of TED violation has been assigned a specific capture rate ranging from 0% to 100% and this is multiplied by the extrapolated number of each of those violations fleet-wide.
The new Biological Opinion requires NMFS to monitor and determine if the fishery is performing below the 12% capture rate performance standard every 6 months. The first 6 month period began July 1, 2012 and will end December 31, 2012. Our fishery is now subject to this standard and is being monitored for compliance with the new 12% capture rate performance standard.
If NMFS finds that the fishery was below the 12% capture rate performance standard, then it will monitor the fishery for the next 6 month period, and the next, and so forth for the future. If NMFS finds that the shrimp fleet exceeded the 12% standard, then a number of initial actions are required including–
- Identification of the discrete areas where non-compliance is occurring
- Targeted outreach by NMFS Gear Monitoring Team in problem areas to include courtesy inspections
- Targeted Law Enforcement in problem areas
- Begin monitoring captures rates on a monthly basis
If after monitoring the fishery each month for an additional 6 months NMFS finds that these initial actions have not been sufficient to reduce the fleet-wide capture rate below the 12% standard, then the agency is required to take further actions including targeted time/area closures of the shrimp trawl fishery in the problem areas.
For further information, please contact John Williams, Executive Director.