Louisiana Shrimpers Association challenging federal mandate requiring turtle excluder devices

Shrimp trawlers in Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

The Louisiana Shrimp Association has sued the National Marine Fisheries Service over a federal rule that would force certain kinds of boats to use devices that allow turtles to escape fishing nets unharmed.

The lawsuit was filed 17 January 2024 in federal court on behalf of the association by the Pelican Institute’s Center for Justice. According to the suit, the rule violates federal law “by failing to consider that sea turtles do not interact with shrimpers in inshore waters.” The suit also claims sea turtle nesting sites are “thriving.”

NMFS introduced the rule in 2021, specifically requiring skimmer trawl vessels to equip turtle excluder devices, which would then let sea turtles escape when caught in a fisherman’s net. Skimmer trawl vessels have an L-shaped frame that allows nets to be set below the boat in shallow waters. NOAA claims that these vessels are more of a risk to turtles that live close to the surface.

The lawsuit also states that the excluder devices could also allow shrimp to escape nets, and that the rule could cost shrimpers anywhere from USD 9.4 million to USD 44 million (EUR 8.6 million to EUR 40.5 million) in revenue.

The LSA lawsuit cites databases that date back to 1965 showing Louisiana inshore shrimp trawlers rarely encounter sea turtles. Over 55 years and 128,781 trawl samples, there were only two occasions where sea turtle interactions were recorded.

This rule comes as low dockside prices are hurting inshore shrimpers, who have seen the per-pound price of their catch drop from USD 3 to USD 1.10 (EUR 2.75 to EUR 1.01).

One of LSA’s concerns is the upfront costs of the devices, as well as the revenue loss for shrimpers, as those in the industry are already struggling to make ends meet. With fishing costs, the current low price of shrimp, and the added burden of buying and using the turtle excluder device, the skimmer trawl fishermen will not survive, the lawsuit claims.

“They can’t confirm one mortality of a sea turtle by skimmer trawlers. We do everything in our power to stay away from them and not catch them, and the smaller vessel shrimpers are going to lose their way of life.” LSA Board President Acy Cooper said. “Instead of working with us, they want to push us out. They (NMFS) are trying to move forward with something that isn’t going to help the issue.”

The shrimp industry has a USD 1.3 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) impact on the state of Louisiana and accounts for 15,000 jobs, according to a state survey.

Reporting by Carli Stewart

Photo by Doug Stewart/National Fisherman


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