A new report by the advocacy group Oceana says a minor change to a turtle-excluder device used on shrimp boats could reap benefits for Gulf wildlife, shrimpers and other fishermen.
Oceana says adjusting the spacing on turtle-excluder devices can reduce the amount of non-shrimp catch, or bycatch, by 25 percent. Lora Sykes with Oceana says that could save as much as 60 million pounds of wasted seafood every year, as well as some smaller turtles.
"Just by reducing that bar spacing by one inch, it can save some of the baby sea turtles and can reduce fish bycatch that maybe some of the other fishermen in the southeast may be targeting, so it could benefit other fishermen as well," Sykes says.
Most Gulf shrimp are caught by boats dragging a net called a trawl. Because some Gulf skimmer trawls are exempt from the requirement to have the devices, Sykes says most of the Gulf skimmer trawl industry is red-listed in some seafood buying guides. Oceana argues that making the devices mandatory would open up new markets for some Gulf shrimp.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources estimates 98 percent of licensed Mississippi shrimp boats with skimmer trawls use turtle-excluder device.
Melissa Scallan with the DMR says the agency provides information about the devices and will even go to boats to make sure they’re installed properly.
"We do courtesy checks so that shrimpers can call our Marine Patrol office, and they can schedule a Marine Patrol officer to look at their TED [turtle-excluder device] before shrimp season starts and make sure they're in compliance," she says.
The DMR distributed about 390 turtle excluder devices to 190 resident skimmer trawl fishermen in 2011.