Mission Blue is proud to stand with Oceana and 81 other NGO’s in support of using Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on Southeastern shrimp boats to protect sea turtles from by catch. On February 14, 2017, the letter below was sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service urging support and passage of this important regulation.
On behalf of the undersigned organizations and our millions of members, we write in strong support of the proposed rule to require all currently exempted Southeastern shrimp boats using skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls and wing net (butterfly) trawls to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). The use of narrow-spaced TEDs in the exempted vessels will not only save up to 2,500 sea turtles each year, but will also benefit the environment, local tourism, the commercial shrimp industry, and commercial and recreational fishing enterprises targeting other species.
Every year, thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles drown in shrimp trawl nets in the South Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Turtle Excluder Devices, when installed correctly in shrimp fishing vessels, are up to 97 percent effective at allowing captured sea turtles to escape. This proposed rule will have the most profound benefit for endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles, the smallest of the sea turtles species and the one most frequently killed by skimmer trawls.
The Fisheries Service has required TEDs on Southeastern otter trawls since the 1980s. However, over 5,000 skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls, and wing net trawls in the Southeastern shrimp trawl fishery are currently not required to use these proven tools and can opt to restrict tow times instead of using TEDs. Tow-time restrictions are difficult to enforce and have been violated in the past.
Saving sea turtles provides many benefits to society. The expected annual benefit to U.S. consumers of improving the status of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles ranges from $219.46 million to $490.56 million dollars. Because sea turtles play a vital role in marine ecosystems, the TED requirement will create a ripple of benefits to the environment. Sea turtles have helped maintain healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs for millions of years, and more sea turtles means healthier sea grass, improved biodiversity, and enriched nesting beaches.
The TED requirement will benefit the commercial shrimp industry as well. Currently, shrimp from the Southeastern skimmer trawl fishery is the only U.S. shrimp on the red “avoid” list of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, a program that helps consumers choose environmentally friendly seafood. Companies such as Whole Foods, ARAMARK, Compass Group North America, and Bon Appétit Management Company all follow Seafood Watch advice in their purchasing. If the fishery requires narrow-spaced TEDs, it could help these fishermen move their products off of this red list, improving access to many more retailers and likely increasing profits.
In addition, the use of TEDs in the Southeastern skimmer trawl fishery will likely decrease the bycatch of non-target finfish. Testing by the Fisheries Service in Louisiana and North Carolina revealed that narrow-spaced bars in TEDs reduced the bycatch of finfish by 25 percent, including commercially and recreationally valuable species such as red snapper, Atlantic croakers and red drum. An expanded requirement for TEDs will reduce sort times, allow fishermen to focus on target species, and decrease the number of commercially and recreationally valuable species killed in skimmer trawls each year.
Local economies also benefit from abundant sea turtle populations. Nature-based tourism is a growing attraction for tourists that generates billions of dollars. Sea turtle tourism attracts over 500,000 visitors to the coastal Southeast annually who wish to scuba dive, attend sea turtle nesting walks, or visit injured sea turtles at rehabilitation centers. In two counties in Florida alone, sea turtle walks contributed about $250,000 to the local economy in a period of two months.
The proposed narrow-spaced TED requirement for skimmer, pusher-head, and wing net trawls will yield benefits for the environment, commercial shrimp fishermen, the local tourism industry, and commercial and recreational fishermen targeting other species. We appreciate the opportunity to provide our recommendations and thank you for your time and commitment to conserving sea turtles.