Over thirty years ago, Congress enacted Section 609 of Public Law 101-162, banning the importation of shrimp harvested through fishing methods that endanger sea turtles. In order to avoid the prohibition, the government of a country wishing to export shrimp to the United States must demonstrate that either it has a regulatory system in place similar to that of our country’s to prohibit and prevent harm to sea turtles or that the particular manner of shrimp harvesting used does not pose a threat to sea turtles.

The U.S. Department of State is responsible for administering Section 609 and has determined that import prohibitions will not be applied to:

1. Shrimp harvested in an aquaculture facility, provided that the shrimp spent at least 30 days in ponds prior to being harvested;

2.  Shrimp harvested by commercial shrimp trawl vessels using turtle excluder devices (TEDs) comparable in effectiveness to those used in the United States;

3. Shrimp harvested by methods that, if used in the United States, would not require TEDs; and

4.  Shrimp harvested in any other manner and under any other circumstances that the Department of State may determine does not pose a threat of the incidental taking of sea turtles.

Since 1996, the State Department has issued annual certifications for nations that have demonstrated that its shrimp is harvested in a manner that does not threaten sea turtles. In addition, the State Department has required that all imports of shrimp and products of shrimp be accompanied by a Shrimp Exporter’s/Importer’s Declaration (DS-2031) as a means of demonstrating eligibility, under Section 609, for importation into the United States.

The State Department, with the assistance of NOAA Fisheries, has proven that Section 609 is an effective tool in enhancing and expanding sea turtle protections around the world. Moreover, the history of Section 609 enforcement clearly demonstrates how access to the U.S market can be leveraged to eliminate or mitigate harmful practices overseas.

Twenty years ago, China received a Section 609 certification from the State Department following a finding that its commercial shrimp fishery only caught shrimp through a method that does not adversely affect sea turtles. This certification has been renewed every year for the last two decades.

Now, the Southern Shrimp Alliance has asked that State Department re-evaluate the eligibility of China’s commercial shrimp fishing fleet for certification under Section 609. In a letter to the federal agency last month, the Southern Shrimp Alliance presented two papers with information establishing that the basis for China’s past Section 609 certifications may no longer exist.

One of these papers, from Oceana, used data from Global Fishing Watch to show extensive trawling activities in the South China Sea. The other paper, by the Southern Shrimp Alliance, identified extensive, public information regarding the activities of the Chinese commercial shrimp fishery, including documented evidence of abnormally high levels of bycatch associated with that fishery. The Southern Shrimp Alliance also presented alarming information regarding the dire state of sea turtle populations in China.

“Shrimp fishermen in the United States are held responsible for any harm that we cause to sea turtles,” said John Williams, Executive Director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “But when we allow for shrimp to be sold in this market that was caught in ways that kill those same turtles in foreign waters, it is impossible to understand why we shoulder this burden alone. Effective and meaningful enforcement by the State Department of Section 609 is absolutely essential to maintaining a level playing field.”

Read the Southern Shrimp Alliance’s February 13, 2020 Letter to the U.S. Department of State here:
Review the State Department’s Shrimp Exporter’s/Importer’s Declaration (DS-2031) here:

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