home
Search
Home   »  Campaigns  »  Saving Sea Turtles from Shrimp ...

Gulf Skimmer Trawls - the Deadly Loophole Around Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)


May 27, 2011 UPDATE - read to the end to download a new Technical Report released by the National Marine Fisheries Service recommending TEDs in skimmer trawls to save sea turtles!

Take action! Click here for our online tool to send a letter supporting increased enforcement of Turtle Excluder Devices in the Gulf of Mexico. Add your own feelings to each letter you send!

A legal loophole deadly to sea turtles allows shallow water shrimp vessels known as skimmer trawls to operate without sea turtle escape hatches, known as Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs). TEDS are required by law on all U.S. commercial shrimp otter trawl boats and on foreign fleets that export shrimp to the U.S.  Yet, every year, hundreds of dead sea turtles continue to wash up along Gulf beaches, spiking during the annual opening of shrimping season. The Sea Turtle Restoration Project believes that skimmer trawls may be the culprit and should be required to use TEDs along with the deepwater shrimp fleet.

During the height of the British Petroleum Oil Spill in June 2010, over 75 sea turtles washed ashore dead in Mississippi two weeks after the opening of their commercial shrimping season.  Mississippi officials realized that skimmers without TEDs likely killed a majority of those sea turtles so they responded immediately with an emergency rule for tow times to be reduced from 55 minutes to 30 minutes to reduce sea turtle drownings. This action likely saved sea turtles from the vessels not using TEDs during the oil spill crisis. Now the problem needs to be addressed for the long-term recovery of Kemp’s ridleys and the other species of sea turtles that were harmed by the double whammy of the oil spill and the shrimp fishery.

Shrimping with skimmer trawls greatly increased in all Gulf States over the past decade because these vessels work well in shallow Gulf waters and TEDs are not required on them. In 2009, over 6,000 skimmer trawls were licensed for shrimping in Louisiana alone. Thousands of vessels are shrimping without TEDs in the Gulf and posing a serious threat to the survival of the world’s most endangered sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley. This combined with only 40 percent compliance with and lack of enforcement of TEDs laws in the U.S. results in 25,000 or more sea turtles still captured and killed in the U.S. shrimp fisheries every year.

In 1987  federal law was enacted requiring the use of TEDs by all offshore shrimp trawlers and later became mandatory for state and inland waters in 1992. National Marine Fisheries Service does not require skimmer trawls to have TEDs since their nets can be emptied frequently while continuing to fish, reducing the chance of drowning a captured sea turtle. However, the tow time restrictions placed on skimmers are near impossible to effectively monitor and enforce and none of them use TEDs, a lethal combination for endangered sea turtles.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Gulf of Mexico Shrimp Skimmer Trawl


What is the difference between the skimmer trawl and other trawls for shrimp?
How common are skimmer trawls compared to other shrimp fishing gear?
Why has commercial shrimping been the leading killer of sea turtles in U.S. waters?
Why are skimmers not required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)?
How are sea turtles impacted by skimmer trawls?
What action is being taken to close the deadly loophole and require TEDs on Gulf of Mexico skimmer trawls?
Are skimmers a problem for sea turtles in other areas besides the Gulf of Mexico?

FAQs about Skimmers

What is the difference between the skimmer trawl and other trawls for shrimp?

Historically, most shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico were caught in a single cone-shaped net with weights on the bottom and floats on the top to allow it to be dragged along the bottom of the sea floor. This arrangement is commonly known as an otter trawl. Otter trawls have metal booms that extend up to 50 feet out on each side of the vessel to hold the mouth of the net open, usually creating an opening 60-40 feet wide. Wooden “doors” also pull the net opening wider as the net is dragged forward. Otter trawls are suitable for nearshore and offshore fishing.

The skimmer trawl vessel has rigid booms creating a frame for the trawl nets extending out from each side 16 feet that also reach 12 feet down and end on skid plates.  Each side of the vessel holds a large, cone-shaped net that is kept open by the rigid frame and kept on the bottom anchored to the skid plate. The combined net opening for fishing is 32 feet wide, very near the same size as small otter trawls. The use of skimmer trawls is primarily in shallow coastal areas.

How common are skimmer trawls compared to other shrimp fishing gear?


In Louisiana, the leading shrimping state in the nation, skimmer trawls comprised half of the over 12,000 commercial shrimping licenses issued in 2009. The states of Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida do not keep records of the exact trawl type licensed by shrimpers, so data from these states is not available. Mississippi and Alabama both record commercial shrimping vessel sizes, and in both states the proportion of smaller vessels, like those used for skimmer trawls, has risen in recent years. Based on Louisiana’s data and observed trends, almost half of the commercial shrimping vessels licensed in Gulf State waters are skimmer trawls.

Why has commercial shrimping been the leading killer of sea turtles in U.S. waters?

The coastal waters of the Gulf of Mexico are important habitat for Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, leatherback and green sea turtles and are also productive shrimping areas. When shrimp nets are dragged for hours, they capture and drown sea turtles, which must surface to breathe every hour or so. Sea turtle populations have declined dramatically and measures to protect them from deadly shrimp trawl encounters focus on use of devices that are installed inside the trawl net to deflect sea turtles through an escape hatch, called Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs).

The National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that over 80,000 sea turtles died each year in shrimp trawl nets in the Gulf of Mexico and South East Atlantic prior to 1990 and that even with improved TED designs and regulations as many as 25,000 sea turtles perish each year in shrimp trawls (Epperly et al., 2002).  Due to lack of compliance and enforcement, TEDs have reduced sea turtle capture and death by about 20 to 40 percent , instead of the 90-to-95 percent capacity possible with prosper TEDS use (Moore et al., 2009). In fact, the entire state of Louisiana has declared that its state enforcement officers are not allowed to enforce TED use in shrimp trawls.

Why are skimmers not required to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)?

Skimmer trawls usually tow their nets for a shorter duration that otter trawls, and NMFS judged that the short time a sea turtle would be trapped by a skimmer would not be lethal. Skimmers have the ability to haul in the individual nets one at a time while the vessel is still moving and fishing the opposite net, so shrimpers pull up the nets more often. As a result, skimmers were excluded from TEDs requirements and required to restrict tow times to 75 minutes or less to protect sea turtles.

However, tow times are very difficult to enforce. Some sea turtles may be able to survive being submerged and dragged along the bottom for over an hour. A sea turtle under stress from multiple shrimp trawl interactions or from coastal pollution is at greater risk of drowning. Recently, Mississippi reduced its tow times to 30 minutes to protect sea turtles, evidence that current tow time regulations are not adequately protective.

How are sea turtles impacted by skimmer trawls?

Sea turtles inhabit the same waters fished by skimmers, are caught in their nets, and experience stress, injury, or death from interactions with skimmer trawls. Sea turtles are not able to cope well with being dropped from a net several feet onto a solid ship deck, and this is exactly what happens each time one is caught. If they survive the risk of drowning in the net, survive the drop onto deck, they still risk injury as fishermen push them around on deck before dumping them back in the ocean. Shrimpers can be fined for harming a sea turtle, so there is no incentive for them to bring back an injured turtle for care. Instead, injured turtles are released and sent back through the gauntlet of shrimpers to be caught again.

What action is being taken to close the deadly loophole and require TEDs on Gulf of Mexico skimmer trawls?


On July 14, 2010 the Sea Turtle Restoration Project and allies filed a petition with NMFS to re-evaluate the deadly impacts to sea turtles from the combined threats of the BP oil spill and the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). In response, NMFS agreed to re-evaluate the harm to sea turtles and consider new measures to ensure long-term survival and recovery of endangered sea turtles after the BP oil spill.  The outcomes of this review are not certain, and STRP will continue to apply pressure to ensure strong sea turtles protections are the result of this process, including requiring TEDs on all skimmers.

Are skimmers a problem for sea turtles in other areas besides the Gulf of Mexico?

Yes, the TED exclusion for skimmer trawls is likely harming sea turtles in all U.S. and international waters. Thousands of skimmers interact with sea turtles on the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas. Current laws regulating the import of wild caught shrimp require TEDs be used on foreign otter trawl vessels, but not skimmer trawls, allowing international shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere the same deadly loophole.  STRP will continue to fight for sea turtles around the world to close this deadly loophole in the shrimping industry and push for fisheries reforms that benefit sea turtles and all marine life.

References

Epperly SL, Avens L, Garrison L, Henwood T, Hoggard W, Mitchell J, et al., Analysis of sea turtle bycatch in the commercial shrimp fisheries of southeast US waters and the Gulf of Mexico. NOAA Technical Memorandum, NMFS-SEFSC-490, US Department of Commerce, 2002

Moore et al., 2009







Sea Turtle Restoration Project • PO Box 370 • Forest Knolls, CA 94933, USA
Phone: +1 415 663 8590 • Fax: +1 415 663 9534 • info@seaturtles.org
» powered by radicalDESIGNS