Tarpon Springs, FL– The Southern Shrimp Alliance, a trade association representing the U.S. shrimp fishery, launched a campaign this week directed at restoring full industry compliance with crucial laws regarding the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in fishing nets. The goal of the campaign, directed at shrimp fishermen throughout the Gulf and South Atlantic region, is to restore TED compliance to previous levels of ninety-seven percent.
“The shrimp fishery’s high compliance with turtle excluder device laws has allowed shrimp fishermen to continue operating under the strict rules of the Endangered Species Act. Compliance has decreased recently and the fishery could be closed if the violations do not stop immediately,” stated John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance.
The campaign launched with a letter to the shrimp industry that asks fishermen not to fish until they are certain they are in compliance and recommends that shrimpers work with the government’s Gear Management Team before leaving the dock. It also warns shrimpers against turning a blind eye when they see other shrimpers in violation.
“Every violation, regardless of severity or intention, puts our entire fishery at a very real and serious risk of being shut down,” said Williams, noting that a conglomerate of environmental groups have put the National Marine Fisheries Service on notice that it intends to file suit under the Endangered Species Act.
A significant increase in the number of turtle strandings in some coastal areas has brought more urgency to clamping down on TED violations.
“Sea turtles end up as strandings on the beach for many different reasons, but some do perish due to the shrimp fishery. When the industry fails our TED compliance responsibilities, some critics place the blame for the entire problem of sea turtle strandings around our necks,” explained Williams. “The best way to get regulators to evaluate all of the facts and address the other possible causes of sea turtle strandings is to show that our vessels are in compliance with TED regulations and reaffirm our industry’s commitment to being part of a sustainable, productive fishery. ”
There are many possible causes for recent sea turtle strandings, ranging from the BP oil spill and clean up efforts—such as dredging—to other fisheries and disease. This is supported by the fact that data regarding sea turtle strandings and data on the time and location of shrimp fishing activity do not line up. Many of the strandings have occurred in areas where shrimp fishing effort was very low or even non-existent. However, returning the industry to its previous, highly acclaimed levels of regulatory compliance is the first step in identifying all other sources of the increased level of turtle strandings.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance will take its message to Washington, DC, where it will be meeting with regulatory leaders to discuss an action plan for what steps the industry and government can take together to solve both the problem of TEDs compliance and the issue of turtle strandings.
“The Southern Shrimp Alliance is working with the facts and taking responsibility for our industry. We fully expect that our partners in the government will do the same,” Williams added.
The Southern Shrimp Alliance represents the U.S. warmwater wild shrimp fishery from eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. For more information, please visit shrimpalliance.com or follow @ShrimpAlliance on Twitter.
Read the full letter: Important Message from John Williams on TED Compliance
A copy of the notice of intent to sue NMFS by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Turtle Island Restoration Network, and Sea Turtle Conservancy can be found at http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/campaigns/fisheries/pdfs/Shrimp_Trawl_Notice_2011-05-31.pdf
Media Contact: Deborah Long, 804.364.0074