The Miami Herald, May 9, 2012
By Janet McConnaughey
NEW ORLEANS -- The federal fisheries agency says that by the start of next year's shrimp season, all trawls should be required to include trap-doors for endangered and threatened sea turtles.
"Turtle excluder devices" are required on many trawls. But smaller boats are allowed to haul up some kinds of nets every hour or so to ensure that turtles don't drown, rather than installing the trapdoors.
The proposal comes after two years in which more than 1,100 dead sea turtles were found in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama waters - 644 in 2010, 525 in 2011. Many of those that hadn't decomposed too badly to dissect had drowned near the bottom, probably in shrimp nets, officials said.
The proposed rule will affect about 2,400 boats in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service proposal. It was scheduled for publication Thursday in the Federal Register, but a pre-publication copy was on the Federal Register's website Tuesday.
Boats in Florida also use skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls and wing nets, which also are called butterfly trawls, but Florida already requires them to use turtle excluder devices, commonly known as TEDs, the proposal said.
Conservation groups said the proposal was the result of an agreement between them and the Fisheries Service. The agency also agreed to complete "its long-overdue analysis of the impacts of shrimp trawling on threatened and endangered marine life in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean," the Center for Biological Diversity said.
The fisheries service, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 2,248 of the boats are in Louisiana, 65 in North Carolina, 62 in Mississippi and 60 in Alabama.
It said it will hold hearings in all four potentially affected states and the rule should be effective by the start of the 2013 shrimping season, not later than March 15, 2013.
Hearing dates were given as May 30 in Morehead City, N.C., June 4 in Larose, La., June 5 in Belle Chasse, La., June 6 in Biloxi, Miss., and June 13 in Bayou La Batre, Ala.
"Finally closing this deadly loophole will give sea turtles another chance to escape drowning in shrimp nets," said Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (SeaTurtles.org), an international marine conservation group with offices in the Gulf and California. "Based on available data, Gulf shrimping is the leading killer of sea turtles in the U.S. and the leading killer of the critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles."
NOAA Fisheries estimated that about 28,000 sea turtles, all either threatened or endangered, are caught each year in the nets.
"This is bogus. It's very upsetting to see this," said Clint Guidry, acting president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. He said that if BP PLC had based its payments to shrimpers on the sort of calculations used by the fisheries service, "we'd have enough money we could buy our own country."
Copyright © 2012 Miami Herald Media Company.
This article originally appeared here.
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