Last year, my colleague Ivy wrote about a proposed rule by NOAA to make shrimping safer for sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
As you may know, all sea turtles in U.S. waters are on the Endangered Species List as either threatened or endangered. Since January 2010, NOAA has observed an increase in marine turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico. Sea turtle deaths can occur for a number of reasons, including disease, exposure to biotoxins or pollutants, ingestion of marine debris, vessel collisions, and fishery interactions. The proposed rule would have required turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all shrimp trawling vessels, including boats that fish in-shore and in shallower waters than those currently required to use TEDs. These in-shore boats, known in the fishing community as skimmer and butterfly trawlers instead have to comply with “tow-time” restrictions, or limits to how long they can keep their nets submerged under water while fishing. Turtles drown when trapped in the nets too long.
NOAA has since withdrawn this proposed rule for multiple reasons, but primarily because the current design of TEDs did not seem to protect turtles effectively.
How is that possible?
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The leatherback sea turtle has spent over 100 million years living beneath the ocean’s waves. It is the longest surviving and one of the largest reptiles on earth. With a heritage that goes back to the dinosaur era, the leatherback sea turtle’s impressive list of accomplishments is virtually unmatched.
Leatherback sea turtles:
- Weigh in between 500 and 2,000 pounds
- Can reach lengths from 4 to 8 feet long
- Live up to 100 years
- Dive to extreme depths, often deeper than 4,000 feet
- Swim great distances, such as traveling over 7,000 miles
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A loggerhead sea turtle escapes from a fishing net fitted with a Turtle Excluder Device (TED). Credit: NOAA
Sea turtles need help. All sea turtles in U.S. waters are on the Endangered Species List as either threatened or endangered. They are often bycatch—unwanted animals caught in nets and other fishing gear. This is one of the most serious threats to the recovery and conservation of sea turtle populations.
But, an escape plan has been hatched. Turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, prevent turtles from becoming entangled and drowning in shrimp fishermen’s nets. TEDs are a set of bars fitted into the neck of a net with an escape hatch. When a sea turtle is caught in a net with a TED, it is stopped against the bars and escapes through the hatch. Shrimp and other critters fishermen want to catch pass through the bars and are collected at the end of the net. TEDs have been used successfully in U.S. shrimp fisheries since the late 1970s, but unfortunately not everyone uses TEDs. Continue reading »