The Shrimp Industry is Killing Sea Turtles and the Government Isn't Doing Anything About It, Conservationists Say

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Landlubbers may not be aware of a current epic sea battle: shrimpers v. sea turtles. The reality is that we have very little idea what kind of impact the former has on the latter endangered critters.

In part, that's because the federal government is dragging ass about conducting meaningful studies into the relationship, not to mention enforcing guidelines it originally said it was going to back. Yesterday, a group of conservation groups sent off a letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service announcing they were going to sue unless the government gets its act together.

The shocking thing here is that almost everyone involved acknowledges that shrimp trawlers crawling through the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic snag sea turtles in their nets. Conservationists figure that the industry captures or kills over 53,000 sea turtles every year.

Back in 2011, three groups filed legal action against the National Marine Fisheries Service due to the deaths of 3,500 sea turtles linked to shrimping. The plaintiffs in the case eventually dropped the action when the Fisheries service agreed to lay out some plans to protect the little guys.

Among them was a requirement shrimpers use "turtle excluder devices" (TEDs) in their nets to allow turtles a way to escape. Large-scale shrimp operators have been required to use such since 1987. More recent regulation extended to all operators, which many small-time shrimpers claim can hurt business.

Unfortunately, enforcement has been lax. Also, after acknowledging past studies had failed to sniff out the exact impact, the Fisheries Service was supposed to do a new study on the relationship.

As of now, however, it has failed to produce a study. Also, estimates say only about 35 percent of the shrimpers comply with regulations.

"The agency has gotten into a disturbing habit of initiating protections and then stalling them," Jaclyn Lopez, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said yesterday in a release. "Every day protections are delayed is another day that these sea turtles face the very real risk of drowning in shrimp nets."

Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Oceana, and Sea Turtle Conservancy all dropped a 60-day notice on the Fisheries Service yesterday. They're threatening to sue under the Endangered Species Act, which requires the service to protect threatened species like the sea turtle.

"Sea turtles are critically endangered, and no shrimp trawler should be allowed to operate if it can't prevent the drowning of turtles," Teri Shore, program director of Turtle Island Restoration Network, said in the same release. "Any net that can't prevent turtles from being held underwater and drowning must be prohibited."

Send your story tips to the author, Kyle Swenson.

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