I am writing to urge you to issue a rule to protect sea turtles from commercial fishing in the United States. Sea turtles are beautiful, majestic creatures that have played a vital role in maintaining the health of the world’s oceans for more than 100 million years. NOAA Fisheries estimates that over 50,000 sea turtles are killed each year by shrimp trawls operating in the Southeastern waters of the U.S. Fortunately, there is a simple solution. By establishing a Turtle Excluder Device (TED) requirement for all excluded shrimp trawls and transitioning the otter trawl fishery to a new and improved TED design, you could save thousands of sea turtles, millions of pounds of fish, and safeguard the future of the U.S. shrimp fishing industry.
Currently, NOAA Fisheries requires that only certain shrimp trawls in the Southeast region use TEDs, which are proven to be 97 percent effective at saving sea turtles. By requiring TEDs on all shrimp trawls, however, over 5,500 additional endangered and threatened sea turtles would be saved.
In addition, Southeastern shrimp trawls produce the most bycatch of any U.S. fishery, wasting two-thirds of their total catch. New scientific studies indicate that reducing the spaces between the bars of a TED by just 1 inch would significantly decrease finfish bycatch by over 55 million pounds.
Requiring the use of TEDs in skimmer trawls will also provide economic benefit to the industry. Due to the lack of this requirement, seafood buying guides tell consumers to avoid the shrimp landed by over 2,400 Southeast skimmer trawl vessels. If a TED requirement is put in place, it is likely that shrimp caught by skimmer trawls will no longer be “red-listed,” allowing fishermen to sell their shrimp to additional markets in the U.S.
Despite this chronic bycatch problem and readily available solutions, no fishery-wide TED requirement has been enacted. We urge you to take action by establishing a TED requirement for all shrimp trawls and to transition those that already use TEDs to the improved design. By taking these actions, you can save thousands of sea turtles and fish each year and expand the role of the United States as a leader in fishery management.
For the oceans,