WTO rules against the use of TEDs to Protect Sea Turtles. Ruling jeopardizes use of TEDs worldwide!

Date: May 1, 1998
Contact: Dan Evans
Phone: (352) 373-6441

How You Can Help

What are Turtle Excluder Devices?
Turtle Excluder Devices, or TEDs, are devices that are sewn into shrimp trawl nets to allow sea turtles to escape the net rather than slowly drowning.

Why are TEDs Important?
The importance of TEDs cannot be overestimated. Shrimping operations primarily catch shrimp by trawling, although this method is very wasteful. It has been shown that for every five pounds of catch, only one pound consists of shrimp, while the remaining four pounds is “bycatch” of fish, turtles and even marine mammals. TEDs, which are very inexpensive additions to shrimping nets, have been shown to be 97 percent effective in reducing the incidental capture of sea turtles, while only reducing shrimp harvest by 2-3 percent. TEDs may also help reduce the overall bycatch of other animals.

The History of TEDs
In 1973 studies determined that a large number of sea turtle “strandings” (dead sea turtles washed ashore) were the result of commercial shrimp trawl operations. Because sea turtles can only stay underwater for a period of about two hours in a resting state, being caught in shrimp nets prevents them from coming to the surface for the air they need.

By 1978 the United States Endangered Species Act extended protection to species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters (leatherback, loggerhead, green, Kemp’s ridley and hawksbill) by establishing education and research programs and providing funding for the development of turtle excluder devices.

This same year, the National Marine Fisheries Service, part of the federal government’s executive branch, began working with shrimp industry representatives to develop an effective TED for a voluntary implementation program. This TED was developed in 1981, but because shrimping operations began to show a reluctance to implement TEDs, environmental groups, including the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, insisted that the NMFS require the use of TEDs by law. In 1987 NMFS began requiring TEDs on a limited basis.

Environmental organizations and shrimp operations began to lobby Congress to extend the use of TEDs to foreign operations. Shrimpers were concerned that they could not compete with the foreign operations, while environmentalists worried that sea turtles would not be adequately protected due to their migratory habits and worldwide presence. In 1989, Congress complied with these concerns by adding section 609 to the Endangered Species Act that extended protection to turtles caught in foreign nets. Shrimp from countries that did not demonstrate a level of sea turtle protection equal to that of the U.S. were banned from import. Countries were given a three year grace period to comply with this legislation.

In 1990, the National Academy of Science released a report documenting more sea turtles are killed as a result of shrimp trawl operations than from all other human activities combined. By 1994 NMFS required that TEDs be used on all U.S. shrimp vessels in all U.S. waters with very few exceptions.

In December, 1995, the U.S. Court of International Trade demanded that the Department of State begin to enforce the mandates of section 609 on a global level. Since then, four countries (Thailand, India, Malaysia and Pakistan) filed complaints with the World Trade Organization (WTO) claiming that the U.S.’s ban on shrimp from countries not protecting turtles to the same degree as the U.S. created an unfair trade barrier and as such, was a violation to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trades. In April 1998, the WTO ruled that U.S. efforts to protect endangered sea turtles were inconsistent with global trade rules.

The Future of TEDs
The results of this ruling jeopardize the expanding use of TEDs throughout the world. The Sea Turtle Survival League advocates the use of TEDs and is active in promoting their continued use. The STSL is concerned about the thousands of sea turtles that are killed each year by shrimp industries that operate without TEDs on their nets. STSL will continue to diligently work to ensure that turtles are protected as much as possible through the implementation of TEDs. Your help is needed to help us meet this goal.


1. Keep TED’s on shrimping nets in the U.S. Please call your state legislators and let them know that because sea turtle conservation is important to you, you support the use of TEDs by U.S. shrimp operations. Request that they ensure TEDs continue to be required. Contact information for your legislators can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

2. Show your support for the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. This Convention is being formed to bring together countries from North, Central and South America for the joint protection, conservation and recovery of the sea turtle population. As part of this goal, the Convention seeks to reduce, to the greatest extent possible, the incidental capture of sea turtles in the course of fishing activities through the regulation of these activities, as well as the development, improvement and use of TEDs. Call your senators and urge them to ratify this very important convention. Contact information can be found at http://thomas.loc.gov

3. Contact President Bill Clinton. Tell the President that the U.S. should not allow outside powers such as the WTO to determine our statutes and that environmental and democratic values are more important than the pursuit of international trade. The President’s Council on Environmental Quality can be reached at 202-456-6224.

4. Contact the U.S. Trade Representative to the World Trade Organization. Demand the release of the WTO rulings against sea turtles. If you are told WTO rulings cannot be released against US laws, tell the representative that the US should withdraw from the WTO.
Call the US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky at 202-395-6890
or E-mail the USTR Feedback line: www.ustr.gov/cgi-bin/feedback.cgi
or write to: US Trade Representative, 600 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20508.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide on this issue!