Tarpon Springs, FL—The Southern Shrimp Alliance praised the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their decision to extend by six months the date for a final decision on whether to list nine distinct population segments (DPS) of loggerhead sea turtles as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In their March 17 announcement, the agencies acknowledged a range of fundamental scientific issues that remain unresolved and which call into serious question the scientific and legal validity of their proposal. These issues are among those that were presented by the Southern Shrimp Alliance to the agencies and are included in its extensive public comments on the agencies’ March 2010 Proposed Rule. The announcement also calls for additional public input to assist the agency in its reevaluation of the loggerhead turtle population status and appropriate regulatory action.

“We continue to take our sea turtle protection responsibilities very seriously, but we insist that they be based on the best scientific information available,” stated John Williams, executive director of the Southern Shrimp Alliance. “A great deal of new scientific information is coming available that presents a more favorable picture of the loggerhead population which the federal government must consider before taking any action. They did the right thing.”

Recent loggerhead turtle nesting trends in Florida and throughout the region suggest the population is beginning to rebound from a long-term decline. Scientists point to the extensive and highly-effective sea turtle bycatch reduction measures in the shrimp fishery and other fisheries adopted over the past 20 years as part of the reason for greater numbers of younger turtles beginning to enter the nesting-age population.

In its July 2010 report “Assessment of Sea-Turtle Status and Trends: Integrating Demography and Abundance”, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also sharply criticized federal loggerhead turtle science and concluded: “Sea-turtle population assessments in the United States are based too heavily on abundance estimates of adult females at nesting beaches. Although abundance estimates of adult females are critical, without knowledge of accompanying changes in demographic rates for all life stages, the proximate and ultimate causes of population trends cannot be determined.” The report highlighted serious gaps in “in-water abundance” demographic data. Female loggerhead turtles of nesting age are known to account for only 1 percent of the total loggerhead population and may not provide an adequate indicator of true population health.

Consistent with the NAS conclusions, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have recently partnered with the Minerals Management Service and the Navy to conduct an extensive 5-year aerial in-water survey of sea turtles and other protected species. The initial results of the Atlantic Marine Assessment Program for Protected Species (AMAPPS) are expected come available in the next few months and may greatly expand scientific understanding of the status of the loggerhead population.

“SSA is proud to have taken a leadership role on behalf of US shrimp fisheries and all affected US fisheries that would have been adversely impacted by the proposed regulatory changes to sea turtle management,” stated Williams. “We appreciate that the agencies have clearly considered our concerns and are taking the appropriate action to improve the scientific data and correct laws in their analyses before making a final decision.”

SSA is an alliance of the U.S. warmwater wild shrimp fishery from eight states: North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

MEDIA CONTACT: Deborah Long, 804.360.0074