NOAA assesses civil penalties to shrimpers for alleged Turtle Excluder Device violations

Devices, required by Endangered Species Act, help keep turtles from drowning in shrimp nets

November 3, 2011

Sea turtle escaping a net equipped with turtle excluder device (TED).

Sea turtle escaping a net equipped with turtle excluder device (TED).  

Download here. (Credit: NOAA)

The owners and operators of 18 shrimp trawlers were assessed civil penalties over the past two weeks for allegedly altering or not having turtle excluder devices on their vessels.

The Notices of Violation and Assessment (NOVAs), issued by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for Enforcement and Litigation, are the latest result of NOAA’s enhanced enforcement of turtle excluder devices, due to a spike in sea turtle deaths. The devices, known as TEDs, keep endangered and threatened sea turtles from being caught and drowned in shrimping nets and are required under the Endangered Species Act.

The owners and operators issued NOVAs have 30 days to respond either by paying the penalty, seeking to have it modified, or requesting a hearing. Penalties on these NOVAs range from $2,500 to $23,000, based on the number of counts and other particular facts of each case, including repeat offenses.

NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s southeast division is strongly focusing on TEDs enforcement and education, due to the more than 468 strandings of sea turtles in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama documented since Jan. 1.

Between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAA’s special agents and enforcement officers teamed with NOAA Fisheries Southeast Science Center’s gear monitoring team to inspect more than 444 vessels for TEDs compliance, including 165 dockside inspections and 366 at-sea inspections. Some vessels were inspected more than once.

In 371 instances, nets were found to be in compliance, and NOAA personnel helped many other shrimpers comply with their hands-on approach, correcting improperly installed TEDs and educating the industry on TED requirements. These outreach efforts have led some fishermen to ask NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement for courtesy checks to ensure their TEDs are in compliance. Agents and officers also visited net shops to see if TEDs were constructed correctly if vessel inspections indicated there was an issue.
 
In an effort to deter future violations, this increased enforcement effort also has resulted in 81 verbal warnings, 20 written warnings and 59 potential additional charges being documented for review by attorneys for NOAA or the Department of Justice. NOVAs already have been issued to owners and operators of 34 vessels. Alleged violations include fishing with no TEDs, fishing with TEDs sewn or tied shut, fishing with escape openings too small, or fishing with grid angles too high.

“TEDs compliance is a high priority for us here in the Gulf,” said Otha Easley, acting special agent in charge of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s southeast division. “It’s the responsibility of everyone involved. It lets the shrimpers keep working while saving the lives of endangered turtles.”

Previously, owners and operators of six other shrimp trawlers were issued NOVAs in August for alleged TEDs violations that occurred earlier this year, and the owner and operator of a seventh trawler received NOVAs earlier in October. NOAA also assessed penalties in July to the owners and operators of nine shrimp trawlers for alleged TEDs violations in 2009 and 2010.

The mission of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement is to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations enacted to conserve and protect our nation's marine resources. To report a suspected violation, contact Enforcement’s national hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

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.