On Friday, November 3, 2017 Oceana reinitiated a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia as a result of the Trump administration having not finalized new protections for sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean. Every year, shrimp trawls in the Southeast to kill thousands of sea turtles.
In a settlement finalized in September 2016, the federal government agreed to release a proposed rule to protect these sea turtles by December 15, 2016 and if final regulations were not released by June 15, 2017, Oceana retained the option to reinitiate the litigation. The final rule has not yet been released.
“At this point, every single day of delay means more threatened and endangered sea turtles dying preventable deaths in fishing nets,” said Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder. “In the spirit of cooperation with the federal government to ensure the best possible final rule, Oceana purposefully held off from taking action when the Trump administration missed its deadline to finalize these protections. All that remains is approval of the rule from the White House Office of Management and Budget, yet the Trump administration has taken ample time without taking this straightforward step. Any further stalling is unacceptable.”
The proposed rule released in December would require Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) – metal grates inserted into shrimp nets that allow sea turtles and other ocean wildlife to escape – in U.S. skimmer, pusher-head and wing net shrimp trawls, which would save as many as 2,500 endangered and threatened sea turtles every year. Less than half of the U.S. shrimp fleet is currently required to use TEDs; however, the proposed rule would extend the requirement to about 5,800 other boats in the region currently exempted.
These proposed regulations were developed as a direct response to the 2015 Oceana lawsuit alleging that the federal government violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to 1) determine whether shrimp fishing in the Southeast region puts sea turtles at risk of extinction, 2) monitor the impact of shrimp fishing on sea turtles, and 3) set a limit on how many sea turtles can be caught and killed.
“Oceana has fought for years to save more sea turtles in U.S. waters by requiring TEDs in more shrimp trawls. Right now, we’re inches away from the finish line, yet the federal government is dragging its heels on finalizing the protections it proposed” Snyder said. “If finalized, the rule would be a victory for both turtles and the American shrimp industry. With the simple solution of requiring more shrimp boats to use TEDs, we could dramatically improve the survival and recovery prospects of sea turtle populations, as well as make our domestic shrimp fishery more sustainable and bolster trust in American fisheries.”
In addition to saving sea turtles, TEDs have been proven to reduce bycatch of other animals, including recreationally and commercially valuable fish. By requiring TEDs in more trawls, the government will reduce pressure on struggling U.S. fisheries, reducing millions of pounds of wasted seafood. Last May, Oceana released a report finding that in 2013 alone, the Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery discarded an estimated 242 million pounds of seafood and ocean wildlife – about 62 percent of its total catch. This wasted catch would equate to more than $350 million in value, if the fish were of marketable size.
Requiring the entire Southeast shrimp trawl fishery to use TEDs would:
- Potentially open new markets to shrimp products by allowing more than 5,000 U.S. shrimp vessels to be removed from “red-lists” on seafood buying guides, due to their failure to use TEDs.
- Reduce pressure on struggling commercial and recreational fisheries. Of the 242 million pounds of fish discarded by Gulf shrimp trawls in 2013, almost 90 million pounds were species valuable to other fishermen. This includes over 1.4 million pounds of red snapper ($5.7 million if of marketable size) and over 52 million pounds of Atlantic croaker ($311 million if of marketable size).
- Help ensure healthy sea turtle populations, improving the value of nature-based tourism. Sea turtle tourism attracts over 500,000 visitors to the coastal Southeast annually. In a two-month period, turtle walks contributed about $250,000 to the local economy in just two counties in Florida.
To learn more about Oceana’s work to protect sea turtles, please click here.
Oceana is represented in this litigation by Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP.
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