Fishing for More Than Shrimp

Mason André

The state of Louisiana is well aware of the coast that’s disappearing, but what about the wildlife that inhabits so much of the water we’re surrounded by? They’re not going unnoticed – recently 7,000 local Louisiana residents have signed a petition in hopes that Governor Bobby Jindal will do more to protect the ever-endangered sea turtles that swim in our waters.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle, or Atlantic ridley sea turtle is the rarest sea turtle and is critically endangered.  Credit: National Park Service

Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, or Atlantic ridley sea turtle is the rarest sea turtle and is critically endangered.
Credit: National Park Service

Coastal Louisiana is home to loggerheads, Kemp’s Ridleys and green turtles, all of which are endangered or close to endangered. For a species to be considered endangered, they must have fewer individuals left on Earth than required for successful breeding, which will lead to extinction if nothing is done. Right now, only 1 in every 1,000 sea turtles born survives to maturity, and many of them aren’t being killed by natural causes. On top of all kinds of wildlife being harmed and killed in the BP oil spill that happened in 2010, there are still many fishermen who fail to protect our turtle community. The main cause of sea turtle endangerment is from humans and negligence when it comes to not disturbing the turtles while fishing for shrimp. Shrimp trawls used for catching shrimp are not regulated closely and cause sea turtles to get caught in the net and consequently killed. Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney for the Florida office of the Center for Biological Diversity, explains the current regulations in place for “protecting” turtles.

“Shrimpers in shallow coastal waters are supposed to observe tow-time restrictions that require them to pull their nets out of the water periodically to check for sea turtles,” said Lopez. “Unfortunately only 35 percent of the fleet complies with the tow-time requirement, meaning that sea turtles continue to needlessly drown in shrimp nets” she stated.

The number of turtles being captured by these trawls have been increasing, and significantly contributing to the decline of the endangered species.

“Scientists estimate the entire Southeast shrimp fishery is killing more than 53,000 sea turtles each year, making the shrimp trawl fishery the leading source of human-induced mortality for sea turtles,” said Lopez.

Many citizens of Louisiana and members of environmental protection groups are unhappy with the laws currently in place to protect sea turtles. In a recent press release, Joanie Steinhaus the Assistant Campaign Director for Turtle Island wrote: “Gov. Jindal can seize this opportunity to bring Louisiana into the 21st century, and into compliance with federal law. He can follow the advice of his constituents and do the right thing for our state’s endangered sea turtles,”

Louisiana is one of the only states that does not have a law requiring enforcement of TED regulation. TEDs, or Turtle Excluder Devices, are escape hatches for turtles on all shrimp vessel nets that allow turtles to go unharmed while shrimp are being fished. According to NOAA Fisheries, they work by allowing small animals such as shrimp to pass through the bars and get caught in the bag end of the trawl. When larger animals, such as sea turtles and sharks, are captured in the trawl, they strike the grid bars and are ejected through the escape hatch. In April, the Louisiana Shrimp Task force voted on TED enforcement, but the bill that allowed Louisiana law enforcement to comply with the regulation was vetoed.

“Gov. Jindal’s insistence on ignoring federal TED laws designed to protect vulnerable sea turtles from drowning needlessly in shrimp nets is a form of animal cruelty,” said Jeff Dorson, Executive Director of the Humane Society of Louisiana, in the same recent press release.


A sea turtle gets caught in a shrimp trawl. Credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

TEDs have been improving over the years and will continue to make shrimp trawling safer for turtles while still be successful for those who are shrimp fishing. With proper enforcement of the fishery laws and participation of the fishing community, sea turtles do not have to go extinct.

The Executive Director from Turtle Island, Todd Steiner, is optimistic that with the recent petitions, the sea turtles will have a better shot at life. He says, “Voters will take notice, in fact they already have as demonstrated by the sheer number of petitions we are sending today. We hope Jindal will take this as sign and use his leadership to protect Gulf of Mexico sea turtles.”

In the meantime, there are plenty of things we can do to protect the sea turtles that aren’t getting caught in nets. Here are some tips on how you can do your part for the turtles, according to the Defenders of Wildlife Organization:

  1. Turn off your lights and flashlights on the beach! Turtles are drawn to the sea by moonlight reflections and get confused where there are other lights present.
  2. Reduce trash on the beach! Less trash means a smaller risk for turtles to get tangled in plastic bottles and netting.
  3. Be aware of turtle nesting and hatching areas! Disturbing the nesting and hatching process can interfere with the development of the baby turtles.
  4. Don’t use chemicals on your lawn or at home! The chemicals can wash into the coastal waters killing plants and wildlife.

Click here to view the referenced press release


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