Sea Turtles Threatened by Shrimping, Law Suit Possible

sea turtlesFour conservation groups have banned together and are prepared to sue the National Marine Fisheries Service for dragging their feet on analyzing the threat to sea turtles from shrimping. They request prompt analysis of the situation and detailed action steps to protect the sea turtles.

These groups assert that 45,000 sea turtles are caught and killed by nets in the Gulf of Mexico alone. The kills are unnecessary and need to be stopped. They sent a letter on Wednesday that allowed a two-month settlement window before they take action, which they intend to back up with the Endangered Species Act.

The groups claim that the federal agency has responded only to say that they are “working on it” and that is not enough. They want more than conformation that an analysis is taking place, because they have heard this since 2010. Instead, they want to see action steps based on the analysis. They also want to stop the shrimping practice until the analysis is complete.

Currently, boats are using nets for shrimping off of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. Sea turtles and fishermen share the same waters. That includes loggerheads, leatherbills, hawksbill and green sea turtles. When the fishermen cast their nets in pursuit of shrimp, they also catch sea turtles.

Unfortunately, turtles do not usually survive being caught in the nets. They are put at risk because they rely on oxygen to breath and need to come up for air often. The net can hold the sea turtles under water too long. Once the net is pulled in, the sea turtles are often found in the mix of other sea life and debris, either dead or unconscious.

Sea turtles have been in existence for 110 million years. The population is difficult to track because once they hatch, they leave the shore and roam the ocean. Loggerheads have been on the Endangered Species List since 1978 due to declining population from pollution, developments near their nests and shrimping. Five of the seven species of sea turtles are currently on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are listed either as “endangered” or “critically endangered.”

Accidental trapping is the main threat today. Changing fisherman’s catching practices to include nets that sea turtles can escape could reduce their unnecessary deaths. This could also help turtles that get caught up in abandoned fishing nets.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Turtle Island Restoration Network, the Sea Turtle Conservancy and Oceana are the groups involved with the sea turtle conservation. They sent a letter of intent to Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and several NOAA officials, in which they stated their case, requested action and threatened to sue if the situation is not remedied. The groups maintain that the agency has taken too long to study the endangered sea turtles and how shrimping is impacting them.

Clint Guidry, who is the president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, replied that they do everything they can to protect the sea turtles while shrimping. He blames the 2010 oil spill for the decline of sea turtles, but also points out that they are making a comeback.

Meanwhile, conservation groups await an answer as to what steps will be taken to save the sea turtles. They want NOAA to provide answers as to what will be done with the analysis of the threats caused by shrimping and threatened to file a law suit if they do not receive timely answers.

By Tracy Rose

Sources:

ABC News 5
Sun Herald
International Science Times
FSRN Radio News

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