Turtle Excluder Device Training
Texas Sea Grant, with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has launched a pilot program to promote turtle-safe, wild-caught Gulf of Mexico shrimp. The program will help reduce incidental capture of sea turtles, especially Northwest Atlantic loggerheads. This species is particularly vulnerable because the shrimp season in the Gulf of Mexico overlaps with its presence in these fishing grounds, but the risk also affects other sea turtle species, including greens, Kemp’s ridleys and hawksbills.
Marine Fisheries Specialist Gary Graham and Cameron County Coastal and Marine Resources Agent Tony Reisinger are working with shrimpers at the dock or aboard their boats, helping them to correctly install and operate turtle excluder devices, or TEDs. They issue an inspection form to those in compliance with TED regulations. Consumers can look for this certification when buying shrimp at their local supermarket.
Certified vessels will be re-evaluated once a year to ensure they remain in compliance. Vessels not in compliance will be offered on-the-spot assistance to correct any deficiencies and will be re-examined as soon as possible after modifications are completed.
HOW TEDS WORK
A TED uses a simple grid to deflect turtles toward an opening in the top of the trawl net while allowing smaller shrimp to pass through and be captured in the net. Current TED designs have been determined to be 97 percent effective in excluding turtles from shrimp trawls, and federal law requires TEDs on most shrimp trawlers operating in the U.S. waters of the Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic.
But TEDs are only effective at reducing incidental capture of sea turtles if made, installed, and operated correctly. Problems can arise from the construction of the net, angle and size of the escape opening, flotation devices, and flap construction. Graham and Reisinger will teach shrimp fishermen correct installation, operation and maintenance of TEDs. Sometimes they are able to correct problems that don’t necessarily represent a danger to sea turtles but can cost fishermen some of their catch.
BENEFITS OF CERTIFICATION
Several major shrimp buyers already request proof of compliance with TED regulations from their suppliers, and the certification is expected to provide shrimp fishermen with access to those markets. In addition, more consumers are demanding sustainable products, so the certification will not only help reduce bycatch of sea turtles, it will provide shrimp retailers with assurance they are buying a compliant product, offer shrimp fishermen access to new markets, and give consumers a tool for choosing sustainably harvested shrimp.
BENEFITS FOR CONSUMERS
Wild-caught Gulf shrimp from certified vessels is the most sustainable and sea turtle-friendly product on the market. Consumers can buy with greater confidence.
“From the consumer side, there is a growing number of people looking for something sustainable, and most major retailers in the U.S. and Europe have or are working toward some kind of sustainability standards, because consumers are asking for it and because they think it is a good idea and want to avoid products that harm the environment.” Megan Westmeyer, Fishery Improvement Project Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership
“We’re not in danger of overfishing Gulf shrimp as we are with so many fish populations, and using TEDs and bycatch reduction devices makes shrimp fisheries more sustainable.” Pamela Plotkin, Director, Texas Sea Grant.
BENEFITS FOR FISHERMEN
Proper TED use helps shrimp fishermen avoid fines and possible closures. The program provides boats with one-on-one assistance with construction, installation, use and maintenance of the devices. Certified vessels have access to potential new markets for selling their product.
“The program trained our crew and recommended a few adjustments and issued us a certificate. We as an industry are asked quite often for evidence of compliance, and it appears we are doing a good job of staying in compliance. We have people call and ask about the use of TEDs and now we are able to say we are using them properly.” Andrea Hance, Executive Director, Texas Shrimp Association and co-owner, Miss Opal Inc.
“TEDs have become complex, and it is tough for fishermen to keep up. Our job is critical as far as showing them what is correct and what needs to be changed. We’re helping people who depend on this fishery to support their families and helping sea turtles.” Tony Reisinger, Coastal and Marine Resources Agent for Cameron County, Texas
BENEFITS FOR SUPPLIERS
Certification provides grocery chains, restaurants and other buyers with the confidence that they are purchasing a sustainable product. This can contribute to their efforts to be a responsible member of the community and help ensure future supply as well. Businesses can also use certification as a marketing and community relations tool.
“Almost all major seafood buyers are on board with this. They recognize this product is important for their bottom line and in order to sell it in the future, they need to make it sustainable now. They know they can have a huge impact on the future supply by doing that now.” Megan Westmeyer, Fishery Improvement Project Director, Sustainable Fisheries Partnership