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Jul 192011

From Green Right Now Reports

A sea turtle caught on a fishing line (Photo: Carlos Perez, Oceana)

Far more sea turtles are being lost to shrimping nets in the Gulf of Mexico than previously thought, according to an Oceana report released today.

The report found that illegal fishing in the Gulf of Mexico is killing thousands of threatened and endangered sea turtles, vastly exceeding federal government estimates on turtle losses.

Most of the sea turtles die when they are caught in shrimping trawls, which by law are supposed to be equipped with escape valves for large marine animals inadvertently trapped in the lines. These escape devices, called Turtle Extruder Devices or TEDs, were developed after extensive research and required as a way to protect these endangered animals. They help the turtles free themselves from the fishing nets instead of drowning while being dragged in the net.

But widespread flouting of the TED requirement has resulted in massive turtle losses.

The Oceana report found that 17 percent of the Gulf of Mexico shrimping vessels are violating this requirement – and they are killing 90 percent of the sea turtles they encounter.

That is so far off the 3 percent turtle mortality estimated by the federal government, it’s not even in the ballpark.

The Oceana report also flags bottom trawlers as another way thousands of turtles are killed accidentally by fishing operations.

The group is calling on the federal government to crack down on shrimp and fishing operations that are failing to provide safety valves for sea turtles. The ocean advocacy has served written notice that it will sue, if the law is not enforced.

“Sea turtles in the Gulf have enough threats without adding illegal fishing into the mix,” said Elizabeth Griffin Wilson, senior manager for marine wildlife at Oceana. “The problem is clear, but there is an even clearer solution. These deaths can and must be stopped.”

Oceana uncovered the violations through an examination of federal documents obtainedunder the Freedom of Information Act.

That data from the National Marine Fisheries Service , which included state enforcement memos, revealed that:

  • Out of the 112 documented vessels, only 23 (21 percent) were found to be fully compliant with TED regulations.
  • In Mississippi and Florida, no vessels were found in compliance.
  • In Texas, only 13 percent of the vessels inspected were complying with the law.
  • Georgia had the highest compliance rate at about 47 percent.
  • On four inspected vessels there were no TEDs installed. On nine additional vessels, the escape hatch on the TED was blocked by a buoy or some other device.
  • Louisiana leads the Gulf states with the highest level of the most egregious violations. Eight out of 36 vessels (22 percent) documented in Louisiana had either no TED installed or the escape hatch was intentionally blocked.

The Oceana report estimates that because of ineffective or lack of TED devices nearly 5,000 (4,874) Loggerhead turtles and 10 Leatherback turtles are being lost every year in the Gulf of Mexico.

Those numbers stand in contrast to government estimates that 778 Loggerheads and 18 Leatherbacks die annually in shrimping or fishing nets in the Gulf.