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NOAA steps up effort to address sea turtle mortality, seeks public input

June 24, 2011

As part of stepped-up efforts to address an increase in sea turtle strandings in the Gulf of Mexico, NOAA announced today it will explore new rules to reduce unintended catch and mortality of sea turtles in the southeastern shrimp fishery, as it continues to enforce vigorously existing regulations meant to protect sea turtle populations.

NOAA has documented an increase in sea turtle strandings in the northern Gulf since early 2010, particularly throughout the Mississippi Sound area. A total of 342 sea turtles have been reported stranded in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana from January 1, 2011 through June 2, 2011. NOAA leads the National Stranding Network, which monitors sea turtle strandings, and actively reviews trends and investigates the causes of sea turtle deaths.

Results of necropsies done on the stranded sea turtles indicate that many of the turtles likely drowned. The exact cause of all the drownings has yet to be determined.

NOAA has scheduled a series of public scoping meetings in mid-July in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Carolina, to solicit public comments to assist the agency in identifying issues and options for evaluation in a draft Environmental Impact Statement assessing the environmental impacts of potential regulatory approaches to reduce sea turtle mortality.

Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), required in most shrimp fisheries, are effective at reducing sea turtle drowning when properly installed and maintained. However, one type of gear, shrimp skimmer trawls, is currently allowed to operate without TEDs, and is instead regulated using tow time limits. The focus of this scoping process is to assess options to reduce sea turtle bycatch in the southeastern shrimp fishery.

In other efforts to increase compliance, NOAA’s Fisheries Service gear experts and enforcement personnel have hosted several turtle excluder device workshops throughout the Gulf states to provide information and assistance to fishermen on federal requirements and proper installation of the devices. They have conducted numerous courtesy inspections on the docks and at-sea to improve compliance within the Gulf shrimp fishery.

NOAA is also actively working to improve compliance by conducting numerous enforcement patrols throughout the Gulf, and bringing more vigorous enforcement actions. “Where violations of turtle excluder device requirements are documented, NOAA is taking enforcement action, including warnings and notices of violation,” said Alan Risenhoover, acting director of NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Law Enforcement. Earlier this year, for example, NOAA brought enforcement actions against three vessels that allegedly went fishing with no turtle excluder devices in their nets, seeking penalties of $17,000 per vessel. “These actions, combined with increased visibility on the water and outreach on the docks, will help ensure increased compliance.”

The shrimping industry has also directly reached out to its members to provide information about turtle excluder device compliance. The Southern Shrimp Alliance scheduled more than a dozen meetings to inform their members that turtle excluder device compliance is a serious issue, stressing the importance of proper installation and maintenance.

Today’s announcement is another step to address a problem that has also been recognized by fishing industry leaders. As NOAA continues to assess the situation involving sea turtle deaths, NOAA scientists and managers will continue to work closely with the fishing community and the states to improve compliance, and enhance use of fishing gear and techniques to prevent sea turtles from being caught in fishing nets.

As NOAA continues to assess the situation involving sea turtle deaths, NOAA scientists and managers will continue to work closely with the fishing community and the states to improve compliance, fishing gear and techniques to prevent sea turtles from being caught in fishing nets.

In responding to the increased number of sea turtle deaths in the Gulf region, NOAA is also assessing potential impacts to sea turtles resulting from the Deepwater Horizon spill. Those injury assessment efforts are ongoing.

NOAA’s mission is to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and to conserve and manage our coastal and marine resources. Join us on Facebook, Twitter and our other social media channels.