June 24th, 2011 08:20 EST
Rapid Action Needed As Record Number of Dead Sea Turtles Found in Gulf of Mexico
Feds Announce Plan to Address Sea Turtles Drowning in Shrimp Trawls
The National Marine Fisheries Service announced plans today to finally address the rash of sea turtle deaths in the Gulf of Mexico due to the shrimp trawl fishery. The Center for Biological Diversity, along with partner conservation groups, had notified the agency May 31 of its intent to sue over the government`s failure to protect endangered sea turtles from entanglement and drowning in shrimp trawls. A record number of dead sea turtles (more than 375) have turned up this year on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama beaches " and government documents point to the shrimp-trawl fishery as the likely leading cause.
We are encouraged that the Fisheries Service is finally taking steps toward addressing a long-known cause of sea turtle mortality, " said Jacyln Lopez, an attorney at the Center. The agency needs to move quickly to fix this problem because while they weigh the options, sea turtles continue to drown in the Gulf of Mexico. "
Shrimp trawling has historically been a primary threat to sea turtle survival in the Gulf. Last year`s BP spill is likely to have weakened sea turtles, making them more vulnerable to drowning in shrimp nets. All sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico, including Kemp`s ridleys and loggerheads, are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Killing or harming sea turtles is prohibited under the Act, although federal officials have created special rules allowing an exception for the shrimp-trawl fishery. Currently the rules require that most shrimp trawlers use turtle excluder devices that allow turtles to escape fishing gear meant to catch shrimp. Unfortunately, due to poor compliance with this rule and the recent popularity of skimmer trawls " " which do not use the turtle excluders " there has been an unprecedented increase in sea turtle mortality.
The Gulf of Mexico is a highly threatened ecosystem that is still reeling from the BP oil spill, " said Lopez. Efforts to conserve sea turtles and restore the Gulf of Mexico should be a high priority. "
In today`s announcement the Fisheries Service committed to evaluating several measures to better protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. The Center will continue to push for increased enforcement and on-boat observers to reduce turtle deaths from shrimp trawls, protections for sensitive areas, and broader requirements for shrimp boats to use gear that reduces turtle deaths.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 320,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org