Endangered turtles endanger the shrimping industryJul 22nd, 2011 | By William Dilella | Category: top story
Members of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association, The Louisiana Shrimper’s Association and other local commercial fishermen and organizations met recently for the local NOAA scoping meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to address the increased environmental impact on endangered sea turtles species—an impact attributed to the seafood fishing industry—and the possible increased use of Turtle Exclusion Devices (TED’s). However, many shrimpers contend that these TED’s also exclude a significant amount of shrimp from the catch, causing further detriment to an already endangered life’s work.
Michael Barnette, a fishery biologist in the protected resources division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), began the presentation for the evening by reassuring all the representatives from the various organizations and the shrimp and seafood fishermen present that none of the plans being proposed are definitive yet.
“These scoping meetings are to solicit input while developing the environmental impact [study],” Barnette said. “This is still an ongoing process, with lots of room for public comment.”
The environmental impact study is being conducted because of the large jump in strandings for endangered turtle species in the Gulf Coast regions. Stranding is defined as when a turtle’s carcass is washed onto the shore. Six species of turtles are protected in the region’s waters, and three in particular—the Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley and Hawkshell—are endangered. And while the Kemp’s Ridley is on the rebound (with more than 40,000 being nested for an average of six years potentially pulling the Kemp’s off the list soon), the other protected species are still washing ashore, dead. Last year there were approximately 600 strandings. This year, between January 1 and June 28, there were 400.
Barnette recognized how hard the shrimping industry is being hit by high fuel and low dock prices, however he asked that everyone who wished to speak limit their comments to the scope of the meeting, being the TED’s. But to bring up TED’s is to address turtle strandings, and to bring up the dead turtles invariably brings shrimpers back to the oil spill.
Many shrimpers assert that the problem with the sudden surge of turtle deaths is directly correlated with the BP oil spill last year, and feel they are being blamed for what is obviously—to them—the result of what many agree is the worst environmental disaster the region has ever experienced.
The alarming problem for Barnette and NOAA though, is that many of the turtles being found have no visible signs of oil, and none is found internally during autopsies either.
Over the last 10 to 15 years, the Gulf region fishing industry has seen numerous battles over the environmental protection device known as TED’s. These devices, which are attached to the catch equipment, exclude a majority of turtles from the catch, protecting them from submergence, which would kill them. However, the exclusion equipment’s efficiency is debated by both sides, as NOAA’s numbers suggest there is no significant loss to shrimp catch caused by the devices, but some shrimpers own numbers show a 20-40 percent loss from the TED’s.
The debate has gone on for as long as some of the workers can remember. Louisiana Shrimpers went through what they now call the “TED Wars,” in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.
“I remember it as if it were yesterday,” said George Barisich, a commercial fisherman for 45 years and President of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association. Barisich reminisced about former Governor Edwin Edwards standing with the shrimpers and saying, “If it’s between the turtles and the shrimpers, then the turtles have got to go, in a sauce piquant.”
“He made a bold move,” Barisich said, “and informed everyone that the Louisana Wildlife and Fisheries could not enforce these regulations.”
It was during this time period when Louisiana legislators introduced a bill that made it legal for seafood fisheries to ignore TED regulations during times of crisis or when otherwise given the express permission by the state government.
However, NOAA is at the federal level, and federal laws supersede those of the state. This is precisely why the scoping meetings are so pivotal, because public input on the three proposed plans will effect what the federal agency, which operates under the Department of Commerce, does after the scoping period ends this August.
Of the three plans proposed at the scoping meetings, only two actually would be a change: either an increase to regulatory sanctions or possible time and area restrictions. The other, which all the shrimper and seafood organizations are pulling for is the status quo plan, which would bring no change. Depending on which side is presenting, the same numbers tell different stories, either for or against status quo.
Barnette and NOAA’s data shows too many correlations, even on a week to week basis, between the start of shrimping season and the increase in standings the past few years.
The same numbers though, when compared to the starts of the season for years and the decades past, show a sharp rise in 2010, after the spill, that is not equalled anywhere else in the data spectrum. It’s these numbers that Clint Guidry, President of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association, says prove that BP is the cause here.
“NOAA’s own data reflects low stranding numbers before the BP oil disaster,” Guidry said.
As for the 600-some turtle strandings last year, Guidry said that last season was hardly the normal start of a shrimping season.
“I don’t have to tell you what you were doing in April ,” Guidry said to the men and women in attendance. “You were cleaning your boats and fixing your nets. Waiting.”
Rep. Reed Henderson spoke directly with Barnette about what NOAA was planning and the assertions being made about the people in the Parish.
“I’m sick and tired of people coming and telling us, ‘Here’s what you have to do,’” Henderson said. “We have a duty to protect sea turtles, but not at the expense of people.”
As the debate in the latest TED war is waged through the scoping meetings, NOAA will continue to access the numbers, comparing their data with the input from the public.
“This is just one scenario,” Barnette said, and that the decision on what is to be done is still to come.