The Audubon Nature Institute has received nearly $52,000 to work with the skimmer shrimp fishery of the northern Gulf of Mexico on sea turtle conservation.

The grant money will be used to expand the "Tow the Time" education campaign to increase sea turtle protection. Tow time regulations reduce the potential for interactions between sea turtles and inshore nets such as skimmers. Current tow time limits are 55 minutes from April 1 to Oct. 30, and 75 minutes from Nov. 1 to March 31.

The grant is one of 18 awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to enhance coastal habitats, bolster fish and wildlife populations and strengthen resilience along the Gulf of Mexico.

"Tow the Time" is a project of Audubon's sustainable seafood program, Gulf United for Lasting Fisheries (G.U.L.F.), which was founded in 2012 to serve as a homegrown champion with an understanding of the issues and the ability to advocate on behalf of Gulf fisheries and seafood industry.

G.U.L.F. acts as a neutral body and an arm of Audubon Nature Institute, working with government agencies, certification bodies, fishers and processors, buyers, restaurateurs, and consumers to ensure that fisheries in the region thrive for the benefit of future generations. Through education and outreach, advancement plans, and third-party assessment and certification of our fisheries, G.U.L.F. highlights what makes the region’s seafood so special and encourages fisheries to go above and beyond to meet the highest standards for responsible fisheries management.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, concerns arose over drastically declining sea turtle populations in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic. One of the reasons identified for sea turtle decline was mortality associated with shrimp trawls. To address these interactions, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) implemented new regulations for the shrimp fishery. Changes in the industry included turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which are installed in nets to allow endangered sea turtles to escape while shrimpers are fishing, and tow time regulations for smaller, inshore nets such as skimmers to reduce the potential for interactions. Since then, sea turtle mortality has significantly decreased and sea turtle populations are showing signs of recovery. Continued concerns about the five species of sea turtles in the Gulf necessitate increased awareness of these regulations to optimize the benefits.