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May 10, 2012

Exciting News for Turtles

Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana.

This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposed regulation that would help prevent sea turtle deaths from shrimp fishing by requiring all skimmer trawls operating in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs).

Oceana and other concerned organizations welcome this exciting news after having asked NMFS to address ongoing sea turtle mortalities and enforce its own protective regulations that are crucial to the recovery and survival of these threatened and endangered species. Turtle excluder devices have effectively reduced the number of sea turtles that drown as a result of commercial fishing activities each year, and NMFS estimates that this new rule could save more than 5,500 sea turtles!  

When properly attached to fishing nets, TEDs act as an escape hatch and allow captured turtles to swim freely away while shrimp accumulate in the net. However, many skimmer trawl boats have been exempt from TED requirements and were instead restricted to towing nets for shorter periods of time.  Despite their proven effectiveness, it has taken many years for NMFS to require TEDs in fisheries that are known to harm turtles, with a long history of litigation surrounding this contentious issue. 

Finally, after growing concerns about the large number of turtles (primarily Kemp’s ridleys) continuing to strand and mounting evidence that many fishermen were not complying with existing rules, NMFS has taken a stronger stance in promoting sea turtle protection in the Gulf of Mexico.  

While this proposal is a step in the right direction, these same sea turtles are still at risk from a number of human activities along our coasts, not to mention the residual impacts from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Oceana will continue to urge NMFS to account for the impacts of not only commercial trawl fishing, but the combined harm from energy exploration and production, other fishing fleets, coastal development, chemical pollution, and climate change that can all make it more difficult for sea turtles to safely migrate, find food, and nest on the beach. 

This recent proposed regulation marks continued work toward minimizing the impacts of commercial fishing, but must be combined with other actions such as protecting critical habitat areas and monitoring the success of existing conservation measures.

Check out Oceana.org to learn more about the importance of sea turtles, how to take action with Oceana, and existing fishing gear modifications that help protect turtles.  Stay tuned for opportunities to help Oceana comment on the proposal or tell NMFS what you think on Regulations.gov.