Texas Sea Grant Extension agents attend hands-on training to assist shrimpers
PALACIOS, Texas — The Texas Sea Grant College Program’s extension team is better equipped to provide outreach to the state’s shrimp fishermen because of special hands-on training they received this summer focusing on turtle excluder devices (TEDs).
A TED is a federally mandated metal grill in the shrimp trawl net that is angled to guide sea turtles and other larger marine life out of the net, like an escape hatch. Dale Stevens, a Fisheries, Methods, and Equipment Specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Gear Monitoring Team from Pascagoula, Miss., visited the Texas coast earlier this summer as part of an exchange program to provide comprehensive training to several Texas Sea Grant extension agents on how to properly assemble, install and inspect TEDs. Even minor errors in the assembly or installation of a TED can impair its effectiveness — and result in costly fines for shrimp fishermen. Thanks to the training, Texas Sea Grant staff can inspect TEDs aboard shrimp boats at the fishermen’s request to ensure that the vessels are in full compliance with federal regulations.
The training builds on the existing relationship between the two organizations to increase the number of people who can provide knowledgeable outreach to fishermen, which Stevens stressed is very important for the shrimping industry and a big help to NMFS, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“With the limited resources we have in the gear technology division at NOAA, this training gives us more boots on the ground to assist fishermen throughout the state when they have questions or concerns about the legality and/or use of their TEDs," Stevens said. “When a fisherman can call a NOAA Gear Specialist or a Texas Sea Grant Agent and have their gear checked dockside, they can go to sea with some degree of assurance that their gear is in compliance with federal law and therefore not have the worry or concern of receiving a fine or violation for the use of improper gear."
NMFS staff led research and development of TEDs, which were introduced in the 1980s. All five sea turtle species in the southeastern U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico were listed as endangered or threatened in the 1970s, and entanglement in fishing nets was one of the greatest threats to sea turtles. Since the 1980s, NMFS has continued to improve the design of TEDs and provide technical training on their installation and use to the southeastern U.S. shrimp fleet. Earliest TED designs had an 89 percent success rate, but newer models have increased that to 97 percent.
During training in late June, Stevens led Texas Sea Grant’s Matagorda County Marine Agent Bill Balboa, Calhoun County Marine Agent Rhonda Cummins and Cameron County Marine Agent Tony Reisinger through a short classroom program before he and Gary Graham, Texas Sea Grant’s Marine Fisheries Specialist, took the group aboard working shrimp boats in Palacios, Port Lavaca and Port O’Connor for hands-on training with TEDs. Stevens and Graham also conducted an earlier training session in Port Arthur for Terrie Looney, the Marine Agent for Jefferson and Chambers Counties.
The agents practiced checking measurements and TED placement. If a vessel was found to have a TED that did not meet the regulatory standards, Graham and Stevens explained to the boat owner or captain what needed to be changed, how and why — something the Texas Sea Grant county agents will now be able to do for vessels in their counties’ shrimp fleet homeports, including Port Arthur, Sabine Pass, Matagorda, Sargent, Palacios, Port Lavaca, Port O’Connor, Seadrift, Brownsville and Port Isabel. Graham will continue to provide the service to shrimp vessels in other ports along the Texas coast.
Cummins also used the hands-on training in Port Lavaca to get to know the boat owners and captains in her county better and let them know they can contact her if they need any help. “This training enables me to do more for my commercial fishermen. The key to this training was Stevens and Graham taking us out to the boats to see all the different rigs that were compliant with regulations,” she said.
David Aparicio, co-owner of Anchor Seafood in Palacios, said having Texas Sea Grant staff members come out to do these inspections and share their knowledge with him and his crews is extremely helpful to him and other local owners.
“If we are doing something wrong, it’s nothing that we are doing intentionally,” he said. “We are grateful to have Gary and others show our captains and shrimpers how to properly set up the TEDs and share the regulations with them. Fines can be costly and hurt my shrimpers. Also, if we’ve had problems, they can help us address them.”
Reisinger and Stevens said the training is valuable beyond the assistance they are providing to shrimp fishermen. “This training and our going in the field to inspect the TEDs is mutually beneficial to both NMFS and Texas Sea Grant," Reisinger said. "It helps Texas Sea Grant to learn about any new regulations or possible changes, and in turn, our feedback helps the NMFS team."
Stevens agreed that the collaboration between the two entities serves both. “Not only does it provide us needed assistance in responding to the needs of the industry, but it also gives all the agencies working together a sometimes different perspective on the issues we are dealing with on a daily basis.”
Dale Stevens, National Marine Fisheries Service Gear Monitoring Team Fisheries, Methods, and Equipment Specialist, center, supervises Texas Sea Grant’s Matagorda County Marine Agent Bill Balboa and Calhoun County Marine Agent Rhonda Cummins as they measure the opening on the "flap" or cover of an offshore TED. Photo by Tony Reisinger/Texas Sea Grant.
From left, Gary Graham, Texas Sea Grant’s Marine Fisheries Specialist, and Stevens examine a TED aboard a shrimp boat. Photo by Tiffany Evans/Texas Sea Grant.
Texas Sea Grant’s Jefferson and Chambers Counties Agent Terrie Looney, left foreground, examines a TED in the classroom portion of the training conducted by Stevens, right, with assistance from Graham. Photo by Tony Reisinger/Texas Sea Grant.
Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.