A federal court has ruled in favor of Oceana that NOAA Fisheries has failed to meet the requirements of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to protect sea turtles in the U.S. Southeast shrimp fisheries. Under the ESA, fisheries like the U.S. shrimp fishery are required to obtain authorization for interactions with sea turtles along with setting limits on the number of interactions that can take place before triggering additional protective actions.
In this case, Oceana successfully argued that NOAA Fisheries had failed to set such a limit and therefore violated the ESA. Without a cap on the number of interactions, NOAA Fisheries has not known if and when additional protective action is required to ensure the fishery does not harm threatened and endangered sea turtle populations. In addition to addressing the need for this limit, the court’s order includes requirements that NOAA Fisheries improve monitoring in the shrimp fishery and adequately explain the impacts of climate change on sea turtles. NOAA Fisheries will also be required to examine the connection between sea turtle harm in relation to fishing effort and assess the levels of compliance with turtle excluder devices, which help sea turtles escape from shrimp trawl nets.
This ruling follows a similar decision by the federal court earlier this month, which found similar deficiencies in the oversight of the U.S Atlantic scallop fishery.
Oceana released the following statement from campaign director Whitney Webber in response to the ruling:
“The incidental catch of sea turtles in fishing gear is a clear threat to their survival. The court found the government must set meaningful limits on bycatch of sea turtles and require monitoring to know if and when those limits are reached or exceeded. Similar to the scallops case, the courts have found that the federal government is not doing enough to monitor the impact of the U.S. shrimp fishery on sea turtles. The court directed NOAA to set a hard cap, or automatic trigger for further protective action. The U.S. shrimp fishery has led the way in developing fishing gear that reduces bycatch, including turtle excluder devices that allow sea turtles to safely escape from shrimp trawl nets. As directed by the court, the federal government must now create a way to ensure that the important U.S. shrimp fishery and sea turtles can co-exist in the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.”