The environmental group Oceana is calling for the federal government to require about 2,400 skimmer trawls to use turtle excluder devices, but the president of the state shrimpers association said there’s a lot more work to be done before that could happen.
Skimmer trawls have been exempt from the requirement to use the devices while other nets on larger boats have been forced to comply since the 1980s, according to Tuesday’s Oceana report, “TEDs for All Trawls: A Net Positive for Fishermen and Sea Turtle.”
The turtle excluder devices — TEDs — are metal grates fitted into the net that allow shrimp to be caught, but gives an escape hatch for turtles and larger fish. Without these devices, Oceana says too many turtles and other larger marine animals are killed and wasted.
“In 2013 alone, the Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery discarded an estimated 242 million pounds of seafood and ocean wildlife — about 62 percent of its total catch,” the report says.
The report calls on the federal government to require that all shrimp trawls use a smaller-spaced TED, require that trawls using the current TED to transition to a smaller spaced one, and to increase the number of federal observers for the shrimp industry. Currently, the TEDs have a 4-inch space between the bars, and Oceana would like to see shrimpers move to a 3-inch gap.
Lora Snyder, responsible fishing campaign director with Oceana, said some of the skimmer trawls already use the TEDs for varying reasons, from conservation to reducing the amount of time it takes to pick through each haul. However, because there isn’t a federal regulation mandating the TED use, Gulf of Mexico shrimp caught by these trawls still remains on the “red list,” or seafood to avoid, on some fish buying guides.
“Some of them are already using them, but they’re not getting credit for it,” Snyder said.
The benefits of requiring skimmer trawls to use the devices include allowing these types of fisheries to be removed from “red lists” and reduce the accidental catch of turtles.
In addition, the use of the devices would reduce the amount of bycatch of commercially valuable fish such as red snapper that get caught in nets and generally discarded. The shrimp industry, Snyder said, has one of the highest bycatch totals of any United States fishery.
Of the 2,435 active skimmer trawl boats in the Gulf of Mexico, 2,248 of them are based in Louisiana.
However, Acy Cooper Jr., president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, said there are a number of safety and other concerns in starting any new requirement to use the TEDs. Before that is done, he said, there needs to be a study on how this will impact Louisiana shrimpers.
“Now, we have so many fishermen who don’t have TEDs ready to go,” Cooper said.
Another regulation is not something the smaller boat shrimpers — now facing low prices and competing against imported shrimp — need right now, he said.
“We’re barely making it now,” Cooper said.
The TED regulations for the bigger boats have worked, and there are more and more turtles being seen, he said.
“No matter how far you go, it’s never enough for them,” Cooper said of fishery environmental organizations. In addition, he said, even though there are more turtles, which in turn can show up in nets, the reduced drag time for the skimmer trawls means there is lower mortality from drowning.
The Oceana report counters that government estimates have more than 50,000 sea turtles killed every year. The report states that the limited drag time hasn’t been effective, citing a 2006 report that says drag times would have to be limited to 10 minutes instead of the 55 to 75 minutes now allowed.
Snyder said that the shrimp industry has made important improvements in reducing the number of non-shrimp marine species they catch, but more can be done to help not only the shrimpers but other fisheries as well. Reducing bycatch of other commercial species means those fish will remain in the waters for other fishermen, she said.
Follow Amy Wold on Twitter, @awold10.