A third of Mississippi shrimp boats may need to install additional devices to protect turtles. As MPB's Evelina Burnett reports, federal regulators are looking at whether the devices are necessary.
Environmental advocacy group Oceana sued the government last year, arguing shrimp boats that pull nets without turtle excluder devices endanger thousands of sea turtles in the southeast.
These devices are like escape hatches for turtles, explains Eric Bilsky, Oceana’s assistant general counsel. He says the group has agreed to put its lawsuit on hold.
"The government has until Dec. 15 to issue a proposed rule, which is a proposal that the public can look at and comment on, and then the agency has a certain longer period of time to come up with a final rule," he explains.
NOAA Fisheries southeast regional administrator Roy Crabtree says, four years ago, the agency looked at turtle excluder devices in skimmer trawls. That's a type of inshore net that currently is not required to use the devices. But they found the devices at the time didn’t keep out smaller turtles.
"We have a TED design now that has narrower spacing on the bars of the TED, and some other modifications that we believe will kick out of the majority of the small turtles, so would result in a reduction of the mortality of turtles in the skimmer trawls," he says.
He notes the agency hasn't yet decided if the devices will be required. If they are, they’d be mandatory in state and federal waters. The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says about 30 percent of the state shrimp fleet uses skimmer trawls at some point in the season.