Commentary on Sea Turtles

Go to Oceana’s web-site and you’ll see this (

Save Turtles From Dying

Shrimp nets are drowning turtles, but they don’t have to.

Dead sea turtles are washing up on Gulf shores by the hundreds. More are falling uncounted onto the ocean floor. They are victims of drowning, caught in shrimp nets and unable to escape.

Shrimp nets don’t have to kill. They can – and should – include escape hatches called Turtle Excluder Devices. But records show that many fishermen are ignoring the rules, and no one is stopping them.

We are calling on the National Marine Fisheries Service to enforce the rules already on the books and protect endangered and threatened turtles. Speak out against this unnecessary massacre.


The good people at Oceana give concerned citizens a form letter on their web-site to send to Michael Barnette, a fisheries biologist at the National Marine Fisheries Service.  The letter reads:

I’m outraged to learn that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has turned a blind eye to violations of sea turtle protections in the shrimp fishery. Despite evidence of illegal activity which likely has caused thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles to be needlessly killed by shrimp trawls, NMFS has yet to solve the problem.

But there are solutions.  NMFS needs to implement a long term plan to conduct enforcement in this fishery, require TEDs to be used in all trawl fisheries, and set fishing closures in times and areas with high sea turtle abundance.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is dragging its feet. Please take rapid action to save threatened and endangered sea turtles from the shrimp fishery and others that are using similar gear where turtles are present.

You can share the same message on twitter and facebook:  Shrimpers are killing turtles!  They must be stopped!

Most folks in this country do not hear much about the domestic shrimp industry.   News about the shrimp industry tends to be reported through local newspapers and seafood trade publications.  But when the industry does draw the interest of national forces and the mainstream media, it is often where the industry is singled out for attack or portrayed as some dying relic of a bygone era before protein was magically produced by the latest scientific advances.

None of this is new, but the industry has to respond to these attacks just as forcefully now as we ever have.

For thousands of families throughout the Gulf and South Atlantic, the shrimp industry represents a way of life. The U.S. shrimp industry has lived through and survived almost everything imaginable that nature and man could throw at it– from overzealous regulators armed with bad science to radical environmental organizations and monstrous category 5 hurricanes.

Yet this industry has survived these obstacles.

At present, the shrimp industry is the target of a handful of environmental organizations that believe that through attacking the shrimp industry, they can draw more attention to themselves and fundraise.  In the name of sea-turtle conservation and a chance at bigger budgets, these groups are willing to shut down one of the few truly American industries remaining in America and put thousands of hard working fishermen out of work to feed their ambitions.

Oceana, along with groups like The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), peddle a fiction.

To hear them tell it, these groups are the selfless voices sounding alarms for defenseless, endangered sea turtles, threatened with extinction by blood-thirsty, vicious, rough and tumble fishermen who would rape the earth without government oversight.  That message probably helps get the contributions rolling in or at least addresses and contact information that can later be tapped through direct mail solicitations.

The remoteness of shrimpers from most of the American population may explain why there is a gullible acceptance of this ridiculous story.  Shrimpers aren’t just proud of improvements in the turtle-excluder devices used by trawlers, many shrimpers have been actively involved in programs that have successfully helped restore sea turtle populations.  Being a shrimper doesn’t mean that you seek the death of all sea turtles (and all ocean creatures).  And being a turtle-lover doesn’t mean that you see shrimpers as the enemy.

Nuances don’t get money in the door.  Calling for the closure of the entire Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic to the shrimp industry does.

The most puzzling part of the latest attack of these groups is that they, like everyone else, have access to the same information and science, and yet they willingly and intentionally chose to ignore the facts about sea-turtle mortality.  If sea-turtle deaths increased dramatically immediately after the largest oil spill in the history of man, (that just happened to occur in the same vicinity as the strandings) well, that’s just some kind of cosmic coincidence.  And if there is also a dramatic increase in dolphin deaths and premature birthing of dolphins that also just happens to be in the same vicinity of the oil spill, well, that’s just another cosmic coincidence.

Getting donations and attention also likely justifies that thousands of individual American jobs along with thousands of small businesses across our nation would be lost if they succeed with their campaign.

But this is not the shrimp industry that environmentalists ran roughshod over two decades ago.

As the Southern Shrimp Alliance approaches its tenth-year anniversary, the domestic shrimp industry no longer is limited to feebly shaking its collective fist in protest in marches and boat blockades.  We can demonstrate, through experience, that we have approached conservation issues in good faith, have worked to be better stewards of resources, and that we will not be railroaded by bad science and one-sided analysis.

This is not about shrimpers versus turtles.

Shrimpers have been accommodating turtle conservation measures for a long time now without objection.  To the extent that some may have backslid, that will be addressed.

This is about environmental groups seeking to make shrimpers the enemy to advance their own interests.

It’s hard to believe that the rank and file members of these groups understand what their leadership is doing and the potential consequences of their actions. If they did, we hope that members would begin to question these tactics.

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