For many ocean lovers, sustainable seafood guides, like the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, are key to enjoying seafood while making choices that are healthy for our bodies and our oceans. These take the guess work out of knowing how some seafood negatively affects marine habitats and wildlife. For example, eating wild shrimp caught in Alaska waters is considered a “best choice” because the population is stable and the methods used to catch them inflict little damage to the surrounding ecosystem.
But the fine nets used in the Gulf of Mexico are more disruptive. The Southeast Shrimp Trawl fishery has been responsible for some of the highest rates of bycatch in the country, including an estimated 53,000 endangered or threatened sea turtles each year. Bycatch, or the capture of non-target fish and ocean wildlife, remains one of the biggest threats to the health of the oceans, contributing to the decline of marine life around the world.
Until yesterday, users of Seafood Watch would have noticed that shrimp specifically from Louisiana were on the “avoid” list, while shrimp from neighboring states were not. This is because in 1987 Louisiana passed a law preventing enforcement of a federal requirement for Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, which allow turtles to escape from the nets. The Louisiana legislature, with support from the state’s shrimp industry, passed a bill that would change the “avoid” classification by reversing the 1987 law. Last Wednesday, Governor Jindal signed it, and the day after that, Monterey Bay Aquarium changed the status of Louisiana wild shrimp from “avoid,” to “good alternative.”
This policy will prevent thousands of sea turtle deaths every year. Sea turtles can hold their breath for 45 minutes, but shrimp trawl nets can remain in the water for hours before being pulled up, so turtles trapped inside will drown. TEDS include metal grates inserted at a midpoint in the net, which allow shrimp flow through to the back, while larger animals, like sea turtles, are not able to pass. A nearby opening in the net allows the turtles to escape. TEDs have been shown to reduce sea turtle mortality rate by 97%.
The red-listing of Louisiana shrimp had led 13,000 restaurants and stores across the U.S. to refuse to sell shrimp caught in Louisiana, due to concerns about sea turtle bycatch. With Monterey Bay’s reclassification, Louisiana shrimp fishermen will likely no longer be at such a severe disadvantage in the market.
Oceana’s Vice President of U.S. Oceans, Jackie Savitz celebrated the victory, saying: “Governor Jindal did the right thing by signing this bill. This is a win for sea turtles, a win for Louisiana’s shrimp fishermen, and a win for consumers. We hope other lawmakers will see that ocean conservation is vital to long-term marine abundance and biodiversity, and that those things are economic drivers. When the oceans are healthy, so are the businesses that depend on them.”
By Oceana Communications Intern, Jaime McClain