The Blog Aquatic » TEDs News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Thu, 28 Aug 2014 17:32:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Next Steps for Protecting Sea Turtles Wed, 27 Mar 2013 15:58:53 +0000 Guest Blogger

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NOAA has since withdrawn this proposed rule for multiple reasons, but primarily because the current design of TEDs did not seem to protect turtles effectively.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?

The offshore shrimp boats that currently are required to have TEDs on their nets typically fish in deeper waters far away from the coastline. The turtles these boats encounter are generally adults and won’t get trapped in the back of the net thanks to the TED’s metal bars. However, the skimmer trawls fish in shallower waters, where juvenile turtles live. These juveniles are small enough to pass through the metal bars on the TED, get trapped at the back of the net, and potentially drown. To see how TEDs help turtles escape from nets, check out this video.

A 2012 NOAA study found that approximately 60% of the observed sea turtle captures in the skimmer trawl fishery were small enough to pass through the metal bars and could be susceptible to drowning without tow-time restrictions. NOAA stated that it couldn’t remove the tow-time restrictions, which are currently the only turtle protections in place, and replace them with TEDS that would not exclude small turtles from the shrimp nets.

Well, what’s wrong with the tow-time restrictions? To investigate the increased sea turtle deaths in the northern Gulf of Mexico, NOAA deployed scientifically trained observers to document sea turtle interactions within the northern Gulf’s skimmer trawl fleet. Previous studies have shown that tow-times aren’t effective. They are difficult to enforce — some peer-reviewed scientific literature suggests the tow-times are too long to avoid injury to sea turtles, and fisherman don’t follow them. However, increased observations on skimmer trawls in 2012 found that even with an observer on-board, over 64% of the tows exceeded the 55-minute limit.

Skimmer tow times relative to seasonal tow time restriction based on mandatory observer coverage of the U.S. Gulf of Mexico skimmer trawl fishery from May through August 2012

Scientists often assume that fishermen are extra diligent following rules like these when fisheries observers are on board. It’s like slowing your car down to the speed limit when a police officer is driving next to you on the road. In other words, the poor score of 35% compliance is probably even lower in the vast majority of the fleet when an observer isn’t on board.
So what happens now? NOAA has a two-fold plan:

Research: Rather than acting reactively after an observed increase in turtle deaths in the spring, NOAA is now proactively initiating aerial and on-water surveys before the 2013 shrimping season begins. NOAA will also continue to study interactions between turtles and the skimmer trawling fleet by continuing to place observers on skimmer trawls to determine the average amount of turtle interactions during a shrimping season. NOAA is also researching and developing new TEDs that will work for the smaller turtles typically found in shallower waters without clogging the fishermen’s nets with debris or causing a large loss in production.

Outreach and Education: NOAA will also provide more outreach and education to skimmer trawl fishermen about the existence and importance of complying with tow time requirements.

Following these research and outreach efforts, NOAA will present these findings and reconsider potential rule-making in the next couple of years. According to NOAA, the bottom line is that TED regulations will be coming to replace tow-time restrictions; at this point it’s not a question of if, but when.

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Species Spotlight: Leatherback Sea Turtles Fri, 30 Nov 2012 15:00:19 +0000 Carmen Yeung

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

Leatherbacks are noticeably distinct from their sea turtle brethren: their heads are not retractable; their flippers do not have claws; and a specialized, rubbery and flexible carapace exists in place of a hard shell. A warming layer of fat as well as a relatively low metabolic rate and  ability to alter blood flow keeps the leatherback cozy in frigid water.

It should be no surprise, then, that the leatherback also has the distinction of being the most widely distributed sea turtle species in the world. Gliding through the vast waters of the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian oceans as well as the Mediterranean Sea, leatherbacks go on an often-perilous journey to reproduce and obtain food.

Cruising for squid, sea squirts and jellyfish (whose tentacles they find a particular delicacy), the leatherback sea turtle utilizes its top secret weapon – backward-pointing spines that cover its mouth and throat. This prevents jellyfish from escaping before being swallowed as dinner.

The female leatherback deposits 60 to 120 eggs during each of the four to five trips she makes to shore per nesting season, often at the same location she was born; this is the only point in her life that she will leave the water. Male leatherbacks never return to shore after making that first momentous and hazardous journey from the nest across the beach and into the water after birth.

On the endangered species list since 1970, most leatherback nesting populations have plummeted more than 80 percent in the Pacific. Scientists estimate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings lives to see adulthood.

This frightening decline stems from habitat loss, boat strikes, the poaching of young turtles and eggs from nesting beaches for human consumption, environmental contamination from oil and gas exploration and extraction, death by injury or accidental drowning in fisheries, and death by ingestion of plastic bags, which resemble jellyfish.

Together, we can work to ensure that this 100-million-year-old marvel does not disappear forever. Ocean Conservancy is helping introduce shrimp fishing gear that helps prevent leatherback sea turtles and other wildlife from being caught and killed incidentally. And our International Coastal Cleanup helps remove millions of pounds of trash from beaches and waterways each year, preventing leatherbacks and other wildlife from accidentally ingesting it.

With your support, Ocean Conservancy can make an enormous impact on the lives of these truly remarkable sea turtles.

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A Sea Turtle Escape Plan Tue, 19 Jun 2012 17:34:39 +0000 Ivy Fredrickson

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.

Last month, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed a new rule to protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico by closing a TED loophole. In the Gulf of Mexico, certain shrimp fishing vessels that operate in coastal waters in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama have been historically exempt from the requirements to use TEDs on their nets if they limit the time a net is underwater. Unfortunately, new information shows that tow time restrictions are not an effective measure for protecting sea turtles. Furthermore, the tow time rule is difficult to enforce and is largely self-policed.

The new rule would require all inshore shrimp fishing boats use TEDs in their nets. This should reduce incidental bycatch and mortality of sea turtles and aid in their recovery. Providing sea turtles with an escape plan will reduce the number of deaths from accidental drowning in trawls, helping populations recover.

This new rule is extremely contentious, particularly in coastal Louisiana, and for good reason. Shrimper nets aren’t entirely to blame for the perils of Gulf sea turtles. The BP oil disaster negatively impacted Gulf sea turtle populations. There are unknown long-term effects of BP’s disaster on the five species of sea turtles in the Gulf. BP must be held accountable for all impacts of the disaster on marine life. But in the meantime, we must ensure that we’re using all practicable and effective tools to prevent more deaths of endangered and threatened sea turtles in Gulf waters.

TEDs in skimmer trawl nets. The set of bars allows shrimp to pass through while stopping turtles and allowing them to escape. Credit: NOAA

Potential resources exist to help shrimp fishermen purchase and install TEDs and receive training on their use. Offering initial installation and training of proper TED operation and maintenance will help the shrimp industry adapt to the new regulations and promote compliance. Ocean Conservancy is working with partners to identify funding for successful implementation.

The Gulf Coast is a place where the culture, economy and wildlife all depend on each other, and the health of the ecosystem. With this new rule, inshore shrimp fleets can maintain their culture and secure their future. Catching shrimp in more sustainable ways not only makes Gulf shrimp appeal to a worldwide environmentally conscious audience, but helps secure a balanced ecosystem and preserve our natural heritage.

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