Turtle escape-hatches now required in more shrimp nets

March 9, 2022 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The federal government is reminding shrimpers that more boats are now required to have escape hatches for sea turtles installed in their nets.

Boats that are at least 40 feet long (12.2 meters) and use skimmer nets must now use turtle excluder devices, commonly called TEDs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service said Tuesday, repeating a statement sent last month.

Skimmer nets are the most common of three kinds of shrimp trawls commonly used in inshore waters.

“TEDs are made to order and this does take time,” NOAA Fisheries said. “Vessel owners who haven’t yet acquired TEDs should consider getting orders in well in advance of their planned fishing trips to make sure they don’t experience delays.”

The devices have been required for decades in the larger, more common, offshore nets called otter trawls.

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NOAA Fisheries included a list of TED-makers — eight in Louisiana, two in Alabama and one each in Mississippi and North Carolina. It said it is not endorsing them but providing frequently requested information.

“The list is not exhaustive and will be updated if additional manufacturers are identified,” the agency said.

Skimmer trawl vessels less than 40 feet (12.2 meters) in length which don’t use TEDs must limit tow times to 55 minutes from April 1 through Oct. 31 and 75 minutes from Nov. 1 through March 31.

The rule now in effect was scaled back considerably from the original, which would have applied to about 5,800 inshore shrimp boats in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic, and to all three kinds of inshore nets. Authorities have said that fewer than 1,100 inshore shrimp boats are at least 40 feet long (12.2 meters).

Environmental groups sued, arguing that all shrimpers should pull TEDs. That suit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, and Turtle Island Restoration Network, is still in pretrial stages before Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the federal district court in Washington, D.C.

All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are threatened or endangered.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that its original rule would have saved 2,500 sea turtles a year but that the revision will save less than half that, the lawsuit said.