WASHINGTON- In response to an Oceana lawsuit filed last year, the Obama administration agreed on Friday to develop a new rule to protect thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles from U.S. shrimp trawl nets. Every year, the federal government allows shrimp trawls to harass and potentially injure over half a million sea turtles in the Gulf and Atlantic, as well as kill an estimated 53,000 turtles. In the settlement finalized Friday, the federal government agreed to release proposed regulations to protect these sea turtles by December 15, 2016.
In the lawsuit, Oceana alleged that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to 1) determine whether shrimp fishing in the Southeast region puts sea turtles at risk of extinction, 2) monitor fishing’s impacts on sea turtles, and 3) set a limit on how many sea turtles can be caught and killed.
Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder released the following statement:
“Year after year, the federal government allows tens of thousands of sea turtles to drown in shrimp trawl nets in the Gulf and Atlantic, in violation of federal law. Oceana is pleased that the Obama administration has finally recognized its responsibility to take action to recover these amazing and vulnerable creatures before it’s too late, and we hope the rule will do just that.
These deaths are even more egregious when you consider that a simple solution already exists. Studies conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service and fishing industry partners have shown that Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)--metal grates inserted into shrimp nets that allow sea turtles and other ocean wildlife to escape--are 97 percent effective at preventing sea turtle deaths when used correctly. Yet their use is not enforced, or even required, in all vessels.
Delay is unacceptable. Oceana urges the federal government to propose the strongest possible conservation and management measures and require TEDs in all U.S. shrimp trawls. By adopting a strong rule, the Obama administration has an opportunity to save thousands of sea turtles while also leaving a legacy of commitment to profitable, sustainable fishing.”
In May, Oceana released a new report calling on the Obama administration to implement a “simple solution” to ensure domestic, wild-caught shrimp are more sustainably caught. Over the last two years, the federal government has developed and tested a new, improved TED with smaller bar spacing (reduced from 4 to 3 inches) that could help save smaller sea turtles and reduce unwanted fish bycatch by an additional 25 percent. By requiring the use of improved TEDs in all U.S. shrimp trawls, the Obama administration has the opportunity to save thousands of sea turtles, reduce millions of pounds of wasted seafood, and open new markets to U.S. shrimpers.
Following the report, on World Sea Turtle Day on June 16, Oceana, One More Generation and local children delivered more than 12,500 letters and drawings from kids across the country to the White House urging President Obama and Secretary Penny Pritzker to save threatened and endangered sea turtles in U.S. waters.
To learn more about Oceana’s work protecting sea turtles, please click here.
Oceana is represented in this litigation by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.