Posted by Rick Civelli | 03.28.2013 | Turtle Talk

Big Trouble Persists in the Big Easy

The last few decades have seen sea turtles facing an increasing variety of human-induced obstacles. Beach development, poaching, coastal lighting, permanent ocean structures, and climate change threaten nests and hatchlings before a flipper touches the water. Conservation efforts seek to address these threats, but one state has stubbornly persisted in defying national laws designed for turtle protection.

TEDTurtles and shrimp (as well as many other marine organisms) occupy similar habitats, so it isn’t surprising they are caught as bycatch. Turtle caught in nets often suffocated, making the trawls a considerable ocean menace.  Turtle Excluder Devices (or TEDs) have a 97% exclusion rate. When utilized on shrimp trawlers TEDs give near shore turtles a fighting chance. However, one state openly defies this national law – Louisiana.

Since the law’s enactment in 1987, Louisiana has worked diligently to flout this national policy. As soon as the law was to be enforced, Louisiana passed a countering law banning the enforcement of TEDs in their waters, openly defying the Endangered Species Act. Twenty-five years later, they continue to do so.

Despite 49 states complying, Louisiana officials claim that the mandatory enforcement is “unjustified, inequitable, and unworkable”. Even in the face of substantial contrary evidence, they claim that “there is little information to conclude that shrimping is a significant causal factor in sea turtle mortality”.



Each time this issue creeps up in the national conscience, Louisiana circumnavigates the law. In 2010, Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed a bill designed to repeal the 1987 ban on enforcement. Last year, Representative Jeff Laundry successfully attached a rider to a House bill blocking the use of federal funds for TED enforcement.

While the BP Oil Spill did pose an additional threat to sea turtles through ingestion and coating, unregulated shrimping fleets remain a major permanent obstacle. Deceased turtles that wash up along the Gulf Coast present with similar causes of death – suffocation, most likely due to being unwillingly submerged in shrimping nets.

Bycatch carnage isn’t limited to sea turtles. Without TED equipped trawlers other species continue to be threatened by one state’s defiance. Encompassing 7,721 miles of shoreline, there are many species that interact daily with these fisheries. Furthermore Louisiana hopes to extend the reach of its state waters (up to 10 miles), environmental impacts will only continue to grow.

We try to instill in all our students the message “one person can make a huge impact”. Jean Beasley is a prime example of this positive force. Regrettably, Louisiana is also an example – one state’s policies can impact not just themselves or neighboring states, but also an entire population of sea turtles and those that care about them.

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