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State & Feds Team Up To
Protect Sea Turtles 

May 2005

Hawk's Bill Turtle, Cuba

Hawks Bill Sea Turtle, Gitmo Bay, Cuba Photo Gabe Wilson

The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration Fisheries Service Office for Law Enforcement, the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Coast Guard are teaming up again this year with commercial fishermen to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles along the coasts of South Carolina and Georgia.

The commercial shrimp-fishing season will likely open in state waters along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts in early- to mid- June, and fishermen trawling in those areas are likely to encounter female sea turtles that are returning to their home nesting sites to lay eggs and juveniles of several species returning to summer foraging grounds. Federal and state regulations require fishermen to utilize Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets so the surface-breathing turtles can escape the nets without being drowned.

U.S. Coast Guard boarding officers from Georgia and South Carolina recently attended TED training at the Southeast Regional Fisheries Training Center in Charleston in preparation for law enforcement efforts during the upcoming shrimp season. The National Marine Fisheries Service Pascagoula Lab will also be sending TED gear experts to locations in South Carolina and Georgia to conduct training for law enforcement and to assist in dockside courtesy inspections.

"This is an ideal situation for the shrimpers, law enforcement and the sea turtles," said Jason Lind, an instructor at the Southeast Regional Fisheries Training Center and U.S. Coast Guard boarding officer. "The ultimate goal of law enforcement is compliance. If we can ensure the shrimpers' TEDs are in compliance before the season opens, we are all getting a head start on our job, which is to protect sea turtles along our coasts."

The TED is a grid of bars with an opening either at the top or the bottom. The grid is fitted into the neck of a shrimp trawl. Small animals like shrimp slip through the bars and are caught in the bag end of the trawl. Large animals such as turtles and sharks, when caught at the mouth of the trawl, strike the grid bars and are ejected through the opening.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Service has been able to show that TEDs are effective at excluding up to 97 percent of sea turtles with minimal loss of shrimp.

"We believe that the TEDs, now approved, are efficient at reducing sea turtle mortality," said Sally Murphy, a biologist with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. "The means to lower mortality is now compliance and enforcement."

Data collected aboard research vessels in South Carolina indicates interaction rates between shrimp boats and sea turtles are relatively high. "We calculate that hundreds or thousands of interactions take place every season," said David Whitaker, a South Carolina DNR fishery manager, "so the relatively few sea turtle strandings we see compared to the interaction rate suggests that TEDs are working pretty well."

"The serious decline in sea turtle nests over the years has caused alarm for the future of the species," said Col. Terry West, chief of law enforcement for Georgia DNR. "By conducting courtesy TED checks, we can assure that commercial shrimp boats are using a legal device before they start to fish, thereby helping to decrease the number of strandings we have each year and increasing the sea turtles' chance for survival."

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