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News Coverage: Scientist Letter to Louisiana's Governor Makes Waves

November 3rd, 2011

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project organized expert scientists from across the Gulf of Mexico to urge the Governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, to repeal the cruel laws banning enforcement of federal sea turtle protection laws that require shrimp trawls to use Turtle Excluder Devices. The Associated Press covered the news, which was published across the country, in the November 2, 2011 story below. Click here to read the press release and download the scientists' letter.

The next day, the New Orleans Times-Picayune's story on our advocacy quoted executive director Todd Steiner. See below for the entire story.

Scientists urge Louisiana to protect netted sea turtles
November 02, 2011. Cain Burdeau of The Associated Press wrote this report

Dozens of scientists asked Gov. Bobby Jindal on Wednesday to scrap a 1987 law that bars state marine agents from enforcing federal rules requiring shrimpers to have special devices on their trawl nets that allow ensnared sea turtles to swim to safety. More than 60 scientists -- most from Gulf Coast states but many from universities across the nation -- sent a letter to Jindal urging him "to revisit and revise" Louisiana's laws and "align with modern fishing and environmental practices"

Louisiana is the only state with a law banning its agents from enforcing 1987 federal rules requiring shrimp trawls to be equipped with the turtle excluder devices, said Roy Crabtree, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's southeast regional administrator for fisheries.

All sea turtles in U.S. waters are listed as either threatened or endangered. Since the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, regulators have been under increasing pressure to do more to protect sea turtles, which crisscross the Gulf and nest on its beaches. A rise in sea turtle deaths after the spill added to the sense of urgency.

"Shrimp trawling is one of the primary threats to sea turtle populations," the letter from the scientists said. It added that TEDs "are an effective and essential tool" in protecting turtles and that they have "gained acceptance by commercial shrimp trawl fleets in the U.S. and around the world."
Jindal's office did not immediately comment.

In 1987, the Louisiana Legislature passed a law banning state wildlife agents from enforcing the federal law. At the time, Louisiana's fishers were outraged by the new devices and claimed there was little evidence that they were catching sea turtles in their nets. The Louisiana law, echoing the shrimp industry's outrage, called the "imposition" of the devices "unjustified, inequitable, and unworkable."

The law ordered the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries to not enforce the federal law until it was proven that Louisiana shrimpers were killing sea turtles in their nets and the devices worked properly without losing shrimp. The law also called on the federal government to find other ways to protect sea turtle populations.

Despite innovations in the turtle devices, fishermen in Louisiana see the federal rules as an unwarranted burden.

"It's a bigger waste of time than anything else," said Alan Estay, the owner of the Blue Water Shrimp Co., a shrimp dock in Dulac. He said species such as the Kemp's Ridley turtle rarely venture into Louisiana waters. "They are native on sandy beaches, and you're not going to find too many sandy beaches in Louisiana."

He said the devices do work, but besides allowing turtles to escape they let too many shrimp out. "They work, but you're also dragging a net with a big hole in it too," he said.

Crabtree said about 3 percent of shrimp is lost from devices that are properly fitted onto trawl nets. He said the devices are "extremely important" in reducing turtle deaths across the Gulf, including Louisiana, where he said turtles are abundant.

Roldan Valverde, a sea turtle biologist at Southeastern Louisiana University who signed the letter, said there was a lot of evidence that shrimpers' nets kill turtles.

"It is time for Louisiana to adopt something that we know works," he said.
The letter from the scientists said the devices have helped the Kemp's Ridley turtle population rebound. In the 1980s, there were under 500 females and scientists estimate that in recent years there were more than 10,000, the letter said.

The Louisiana Legislature passed a bill last year repealing the 1987 law, but that bill was vetoed by Jindal. The governor said he nixed the bill because he felt that the fishing industry -- at that time struggling with the massive BP oil spill -- was facing an uncertain future and had not had the time it needed to examine the bill.

Shrimpers and turtle advocates engulfed in federal or state enforcement debate
November 03, 2011. By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch, The Times-Picayune

A day after a group of Gulf Coast and national marine scientists sent Gov. Bobby Jindal a letter urging him to repeal a Louisiana law that prohibits state enforcement of sea turtle protection regulations, the federal arm responsible for enforcement announced Thursday that 18 shrimp trawlers have been assessed civil penalties for allegedly altering, or not having, turtle excluder devices on their vessels. And the Southern Shrimp Alliance, which represents Gulf shrimpers, quickly sent out a message of its own, saying it welcomes such enforcement.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the 18 violation notices are the “latest result” in its office’s enhanced TED enforcement, “due to a spike in sea turtle deaths.“

The Southern Shrimp Alliance has begun working with NOAA to educate shrimpers on using TEDs, fearing that failure to comply could lead to additional regulations, such as requiring TEDs in skimmer nets.

In May, several environmental groups called for the immediate closure of the Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery until adequate sea turtle protections were enforced. There are five species of sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic, and all are protected under the Endangered Species Act: loggerhead, green, Kemp’s ridley, hawksbill and leatherback.

NOAA says it is focusing on TEDs enforcement and education because of nearly 500 sea-turtle strandings this year in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Strandings are defined as turtles that wash ashore, dead or alive, or are found floating dead or alive, generally in a weakened condition.

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service, in conjunction with state agencies, performed necropsies on 47 turtles from Mississippi, 27 from Louisiana and four from Alabama that were stranded between March and June, and determined the two primary possible causes of death were forced submergence or affects from harmful algal blooms.

NOAA stated that “the only known plausible cause” of forced submergence is capture in fishing gear. Sampling by federal officials showed that TEDs compliance was inadequate.

In the marine scientists’ letter to Jindal, they referred to a 1987 Louisiana law that prohibits enforcement of sea-turtle regulations in state waters. All Gulf states except Louisiana have agreements with the National Marine Fisheries Service that provide funds and resources to state wardens enforcing federal laws in state jurisdictions.

A federal law, also passed in 1987, requires that shrimp trawl nets have TEDs, but the Louisiana law prohibits state wildlife agents from enforcing the federal statute, claiming there is little proof that shrimping is a significant cause of turtle deaths.

The Legislature did repeal the state law last year, but Jindal vetoed the repeal.
Jindal said in his veto letter that he was concerned that those involved in the fishing “communities and industry did not have sufficient time to give their input during the development of this bill due to the BP oil spill.” Seemingly in response, biologist Todd Steiner, director of SeaTurtles.org, recently said “there is little evidence that anyone in the Louisiana governor’s office understands the first thing about sustainable ecosystem management.”

The owners and operators have 30 days to respond to the violation notices by paying the penalty, seeking to have it modified or requesting a hearing. Penalties range from $2,500 to $23,000.

“TEDs compliance is a high priority for us here in the Gulf,” stated Otha Easley, acting special agent in charge of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement’s southeast division.

Between mid-April, the start of shrimping season, and late October, NOAA says it has inspected about 444 vessels for TEDs compliance, including 165 dockside inspections and 366 at-sea inspections. In 371 instances, NOAA found the nets in compliance, according to NOAA.




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
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