A federal judge in the U.S. state of Louisiana will hold a hearing on Tuesday, 24 August to determine if an injunction should be issued against NOAA Fisheries that would require the agency to postpone implementing a rule mandating shrimp fishermen install turtle excluder devices on their inshore skimmers.
Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry sought the restraining order after NOAA Fisheries failed to continue a delay on a 2019 final rule that called for the excluder devices. In an announcement on 20 December, 2019, the agency said the final rule would take effect on 1 April 2021.
Landry noted in his motion the COVID-19 pandemic made that deadline for compliance impossible. As a result, NOAA Fisheries extended the deadline to 1 August.
“The urgent problem prompting this motion is that nothing about the supply-chain, manpower, and training disruptions has changed,” Landry’s motion stated. “COVID-related disruptions still abound, rendering skimmer captains still unable to comply with the 2019 final rule due to the sheer unavailability of TEDs.”
In addition, NOAA Fisheries has also not held any in-person training sessions that were promised when the rule was published. Landry said that agency officials considered them necessary because if shrimpers improperly installed the devices, that could actually lead to more harm to the sea animals.
Landry filed for the injunction on Wednesday, 11 August, the same day he filed suit against the agency in the U.S. District Court in New Orleans. Unlike most temporary injunctions, which last 14 days, Landry has asked U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo to use the injunction to postpone the effective date of the rule. On Friday, 13 August, Milazzo made the announcement the ruling will come on 24 August.
Without that injunction, shrimpers could face fines of USD 10,000 (EUR 8,478) for each violation.
“Absent immediate relief from this court, shrimpers will be precluded from the peak shrimping season because circumstances outside their control make it impossible to comply with a rule whose effective date defendants have already extended once for reasons that remain unchanged,” Landry wrote.
NOAA Fisheries Acting Director of Public Affairs Kate Brogan told SeafoodSource on Monday, 16 August, the agency was aware of the lawsuit.
“We cannot discuss litigation matters further,” she said.
NOAA is also facing pressure from environmental groups to enforce the rule, having been threatened with legal action in January 2021 by Turtle Island Restoration Network, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, and the Center for Biological Diversity for claims it is violating the Endangered Species Act by not protecting endangered turtles.
As NOAA Fisheries seeks compliance from larger shrimp vessels, it also considering adding vessels less than 40 feet in length to the rule. NOAA finalized its rule for those vessels in January 2020 but has not yet implemented it.
“We have continued testing and analysis of TED designs and use on small skimmer trawls, and now have effective designs that would reduce sea turtle bycatch,” a 22 April advisory noted.
Photo courtesy of NOAA Fisheries