Environmental groups plan to sue NOAA Fisheries over alleged Gulf, South Atlantic turtle violations

On Monday 11 January, a group of environmental organizations sent notice to Trump administration officials that the U.S. government is violating the Endangered Species Act, and giving notice they plan to take legal action as a result.

The Endangered Species Act requires a 60-day notice when groups plan to sue.

The letter was addressed to U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, NOAA Administrator Neil Jacobs, and NOAA Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Chris Oliver. It comes after NOAA Fisheries made a last-minute change to a proposed rule regarding turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawl fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic regions. The final rule, published on 19 December, now allows vessels smaller than 40 feet to operate without using excluder devices.

Boats larger than 40 feet must have turtle excluders installed by 1 April, 2021.

In a statement, Turtle Island Restoration Network, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity claim the change in the rule will mean about 1,300 sea turtle deaths that could have been prevented.

It notes that there are only seven species of sea turtle in the world, and all those that dwell in American waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act. The Trump administration moved to ease its enforcement of the Endangered Species Act in August 2019. 

“A shrimp cocktail is not worth the life of a sea turtle,” Florida Director for the Center for Biological Diversity Jaclyn Lopez said. “We have to do more to protect these extraordinary creatures before it’s too late. Devices to exclude sea turtles from shrimp nets just make sense.”

The protective devices have been mandated for other parts of the shrimp fleet, the statement noted.

This isn't the first lawsuit that the Center for Biological Diversity has leveled at the U.S. government regardling sea turtle protections. The organization filed a federal suit against the Trump administration in January alleging it has not done enough to protect green sea turtle habitats across the country. 

The groups are being represented by legal firm Earthjustice.

“We know that these devices work to keep sea turtles from dying in shrimp nets,” Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton said. “It is a proven solution that has stopped needless carnage in many places across the globe, and it will work here as well.”

The 60-day window means the administration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will be in office when the environmental groups can sue. It is uncertain whether Biden's administration, which takes office 20 January, will seek a remedy to the final rule.  

Photo courtesy of Shane Myers Photography/Shutterstock 


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