It’s been a good summer for sea turtles, for Louisiana shrimpers and for the oceans. A bipartisan bill went into effect that commits the state of Louisiana to accepting a federal law designed to protect sea turtles. Until now, the state had steadfastly refused to enforce a law requiring the use of turtle excluder devices (known as TEDs) in shrimp nets. This bill will change that, protecting sea turtles as the federal law was designed to do. And it will have benefits for shrimpers, as well.
It benefits shrimpers because the state’s failure to enforce the law was giving Louisiana shrimp a bad name. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch guide, which informs the seafood choices of millions of consumers and thousands of businesses, had included shrimp from Louisiana on its “avoid” list. You might ask what earned Louisiana shrimp this designation? Were Louisiana shrimp in decline? Were they unhealthy? Were they dangerous? No. None of the above. In fact, wild-caught shrimp from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi and Texas — basically the same product — were considered more sustainable, and are sold in many places in the U.S. that have been closed to Louisiana shrimp.
The problem in Louisiana was its 1987 law involving TEDs. TEDs are openings in shrimpers’ nets that allow trapped sea turtles to escape, and their use prevents the deaths of thousands of endangered and threatened sea turtles every year. Unfortunately, the 1987 state law actively prevented Louisiana officials from enforcing federal requirements for the use of these devices. Even though some fishermen might have been complying with the federal law, others may not have been. Since state authorities would not enforce it, Louisiana shrimp were not considered by many to be sustainable.
Thankfully, this problem had an easy solution, and with this bill, Louisiana sensibly reversed the 1987 law. Now, shrimp fishermen will have the chance to sell their products in many stores that previously wouldn’t carry shrimp from the state. And while TEDs are not 100 percent effective, consumers can now be more confident that the shrimp they eat did not come at the expense of sea turtles.
This new state law is a win-win, one of those positive instances where conservation and industry goals converge. It is also a great opportunity to remind ourselves that in the long run, conservation concerns must ultimately also be seafood industry concerns if we are going to have sustainable fisheries. The relationship between a healthy sea turtle population and a robust shrimp fishery may be difficult to see, but we know that in the long run, responsible management of the oceans is necessary for their abundance.
vice president, Oceana