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For Immediate Release, November 28, 2012

Contacts:  Jaclyn Lopez, Center for Biological Diversity, (727) 490-9190,
Todd Steiner, Turtle Island Restoration Network, (415) 488-7652, (photos available)
Marydele Donnelly, Sea Turtle Conservancy, (410) 750-1561,
Haley McKey, Defenders of Wildlife, (202) 772-0247,

Fisheries Service Withdraws Rule Aimed at Stopping Sea Turtles From Drowning in Fishing Nets

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.— The National Marine Fisheries Service has backed out of finalizing a rule that would protect imperiled sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets. Pursuant to a settlement agreement, the agency had agreed to propose regulations to address sea turtle captures in skimmer trawls — fishing equipment, used primarily in bays and estuaries, that are currently exempt from using turtle excluder devices. It issued a proposed rule in May 2012 finding that such regulations were necessary to prevent sea turtle deaths, but reneged on its proposal after discovering that even with the devices small turtles can still get caught in the nets.

“The Fisheries Service says it’s not abandoning its promise to protect sea turtles, but rather than move forward with protective measures, it’s maintaining the deadly status quo,” said Jaclyn Lopez, a Florida attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The agency has known about this chronic problem for a long time. Further delay will cause unnecessary turtle deaths, and that’s tragic.”

Shrimp trawling has for many decades been the primary threat to sea turtle survival in the United States. The shrimp trawl fishery incidentally captures and kills thousands of threatened and endangered sea turtles each year. “Turtle excluder devices,” or TEDs, prevent turtles from drowning in nets, but limited applicability and lax enforcement are thought to have led to thousands of deaths in 2010 and 2011.

“Sea turtles are critically endangered and no shrimp trawler should be allowed to operate if it can’t prevent the drowning of turtles,” said Todd Steiner, biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “Any net that can’t prevent turtles from being held underwater and drowning must be prohibited.”

“The Fisheries Service’s southeast regional office has apparently forgotten it is entrusted with protecting endangered sea turtles. Its decision to allow skimmer trawl fishermen to continue to kill thousands of animals every year is the worst in a series of failures by that office,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy at the Sea Turtle Conservancy. “The decision also threatens U.S. treaty obligations and credibility abroad because countries which export shrimp to the United States must protect sea turtles from shrimp trawls but clearly we cannot meet the standards to which we hold others.”

“We know that when commercial shrimp nets don’t offer turtles a way out, they die,” said Sierra Weaver, an attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “NMFS has been studying solutions to this problem for years, but years more study won’t save sea turtles until the agency finds the political will to require protections in the water.”

Currently skimmer trawls can use tow-time restrictions instead of TEDs. Tow times limit the amount of time shrimpers can keep their trawls in the water. In May 2012 the agency published a proposed rule that would withdraw the tow time restrictions and instead require that all shrimp trawls use TEDs. Though the agency had already conducted extensive TED testing in skimmer trawls, this summer observers aboard some skimmer trawl vessels observed that TEDs were ineffective for some small sea turtles. Rather than implement protective measures, like more extensive observer coverage, the agency is instead withdrawing the rule. It plans to rethink its strategy; meanwhile sea turtles will continue to be caught in shrimp trawl nets and drown.

The proposed rule was the result of a settlement reached in response to a lawsuit brought by Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sea Turtle Conservancy and Defenders of Wildlife that sought to address unprecedented high numbers of sea turtle strandings in 2011, when more than 3,500 of the increasingly rare animals turned up dead or injured in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic Ocean. The Fisheries Service linked many of those sea turtle strandings to drowning in shrimp fishing nets. Because strandings represent only 5 percent to 6 percent of the turtles actually killed in shrimp nets, however, scientists estimate thousands of turtles died in shrimp nets last year.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 450,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Turtle Island Restoration Network is an international marine conservation organization headquartered in California whose 55,000 members and online activists work to protect sea turtles and marine biodiversity in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit

Sea Turtle Conservancy works to ensure the survival of sea turtles within the Caribbean, Atlantic and Pacific through research, education, training, advocacy and protection of the natural habitats upon which they depend.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit

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