Last week a record number of endangered and threatened sea turtles began washing up along the Georgia coastline, including 13 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the most endangered sea turtle in the world. At the same time, 106 shrimp boats were spotted fishing off the Georgia coastline. Because the turtles otherwise seemed healthy and no other fishing was occurring in those waters, officials think that shrimp trawling may be the culprit.
This news was particularly disturbing because last spring, after years of pressure from Oceana and other concerned citizens, the federal government finally required new, larger turtle excluder devices (TEDs), escape hatches sewn into trawl fishing nets, to allow all sea turtles to escape drowning. Properly installed TEDs should dramatically reduce sea turtle deaths. Georgia shrimpers were one of the first groups to embrace this technology. Unfortunately, though, it seems that other fishermen are choosing not to use their TEDs properly. Because government studies have shown that properly installed TEDs only reduce shrimp retention between 0-2%, it is unfortunate that TEDs may be sewn shut.
Clearly, education and enforcement are increasingly necessary to ensure that everyone is following the law. As sea turtles continue to wash up on Georgia beaches, we are reminded that sea turtles face many man-made threats in the oceans. Shrimp fishermen should not be one of them.
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