Bush Administration fails to protect sea turtles yet again

Date: July 8, 2008
Contact: Marydele Donnelly
Phone: (325) 373-6441

Washington D.C. – Today the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the world’s oldest sea turtle conservation organization, called on the Bush Administration to propose regulations to protect sea turtles in U.S. waters from drowning in the nets of trawl fishermen.

“Thousands of sea turtles are dying in trawl fisheries in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico each year,” said Marydele Donnelly, director of CCC’s fisheries policy program. “Sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and these fisheries are prohibited from capturing or killing them. The Bush Administration has to show some fortitude and require fishermen to use gear proven to avoid this mortality.”

Unlike so many other types of fisheries, trawl fisheries have an efficient and cost-effective solution to turtle capture, known as turtle excluder devices or TEDs. Trawls are wide-mouthed nets that may stretch for 30 feet at the opening and taper to a bag for the catch. As they are towed through the water, trawls sweep up everything in their paths, including sea turtles and other marine life. Unable to surface to breathe, entrapped turtles drown.

TEDs are two dimensional net inserts placed near the back of the net to guide sea turtles and other large objects out through special openings. TEDs in the shrimp fishery have benefitted marine ecosystems in many ways, chiefly by reducing the capture of non-target species but also by saving the industry money on fuel and sorting time on deck. Since 1992, the U.S. shrimp fleet has been required to use TEDs but thousands of other trawls operate in state and federal waters without TEDs.

In 2001, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced it would protect sea turtles in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico by regulating fisheries through gear type, trawls being the first priority. Years later, the proposed regulations are nowhere to be seen. For loggerhead turtles, the delays in regulating all trawl fisheries have been fatal. Last year loggerhead nesting in Florida, where more than 90% of the species nests, hit the lowest year on record since record-keeping began in the 1980s.

“The law was on the side of the turtles in the mid-1980s when TEDs were introduced,” continued Donnelly. “But the conservation community had to drag the National Marine Fisheries Service into court. If the Bush Administration does not move expeditiously to propose a comprehensive rule for public comment this summer, I predict the conservation community will bring another lawsuit before the year is out.”

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The Sea Turtle Conservancy, formerly known as the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, is a not-for-profit, 501(c)3 organization based in Florida with offices and projects in several other locations. The Sea Turtle Conservancy is the oldest and most accomplished sea turtle organization in the world. Since its founding in 1959, the Sea Turtle Conservancy’s work has greatly improved the survival outlook for several species of sea turtles. The Sea Turtle Conservancy has as its mission the protection of sea turtles and the habitats upon which they depend. To achieve its mission, the Sea Turtle Conservancy uses research, habitat protection, public education, community outreach, networking and advocacy as its basic tools. These tools are applied in both international and domestic programs focusing on geographic areas that are globally important to sea turtle survival. Learn more at www.conserveturtles.org.