The Center for Biological Diversity and Turtle Island Restoration Network, represented by the Stanford Law Clinic, had petitioned the government last month to undertake this new analysis under the Endangered Species Act and delay further shrimp trawling until adequate protections were in place. Despite significant concerns regarding its impacts on threatened and endangered sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service allowed shrimp trawling in the Gulf to begin again this week.
“These turtles face even more serious challenges to their survival since BP spewed millions of gallons of oil and chemical dispersants into their habitat,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center. “Right now they need all the help we can give them. Losing even more turtles to drowning in shrimp trawls may just be too much for some species to rebound from.”
Wildlife rescuers have collected more than 1,000 sea turtles since the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout, more than of which 500 were dead. Scientists say that drowning was a primary culprit in death of sea turtles they’ve examined. Shrimp fishing can kill sea turtles when the air-breathing animals are caught in the trawls and prevented from surfacing to breathe; it is recognized as the annual leading cause of mortality to adult turtles from industrial fishing activities in the Gulf of Mexico and throughout the world.
Todd Steiner, executive director of Turtle Island, said today: “Shrimp fishing combined with the BP oil spill is a double whammy for sea turtles, especially the Kemp’s ridley turtle, that pushes them ever more close to extinction. We expect the government’s new biological opinion to issue hard caps on the number of turtles that can be caught in shrimp nets — and when that cap is reached, the fishing season must end to allow the species a chance to recover.”
Shrimp trawlers are required to install and use turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which allow sea turtles caught in shrimp nets to escape to the surface to breathe. However, reports of widespread non-compliance with excluder requirements and other measures designed to save turtles indicate that more remains to be done to protect the species.
“The government needs to do more than study whether shrimp trawling is jeopardizing sea turtles. It needs to ensure that adequate measures are in place and being enforced to protect those sea turtles,” said Deborah A. Sivas, a professor of environmental law and director of Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, which is representing the California- and Texas-based Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Center for Biological Diversity.
The Fisheries Service suspects that lingering effects from the BP Horizon oil spill may also be making sea turtles more vulnerable to being caught and drowned in trawls. The Gulf of Mexico provides crucial breeding, feeding and migratory habitat for five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles: Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, green, leatherback and hawksbill. All are protected under the Endangered Species Act.