Turtle escape hatches are now required in more shrimp nets

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The federal government is reminding shrimpers that more boats are now required to have sea turtle escape hatches installed in their nets.

Boats at least 40 feet (12.2 meters) long and using skimmer nets must now use turtle excluder devices, commonly known as TEDs, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries Department said Tuesday, reiterating a statement sent last month.

Skimmer nets are the most common of the three types of shrimp trawls commonly used in coastal waters.

“TEDs are made to order and it takes time,” NOAA Fisheries said. “Vessel owners who have not yet acquired TEDs should consider placing orders well in advance of their planned fishing trips to ensure they do not experience delays.”

The devices have been needed for decades in larger, more common offshore nets called otter trawls.

NOAA Fisheries included a list of TED manufacturers — eight in Louisiana, two in Alabama, and one each in Mississippi and North Carolina. He said he does not endorse them but provides frequently requested information.

“The list is not exhaustive and will be updated as additional manufacturers are identified,” the agency said.

Skimmer trawlers under 40 feet (12.2 meters) in length that do not use TEDs must limit towing times to 55 minutes from April 1 to October 31 and 75 minutes from November 1 to March 31.

The rule currently in place has been significantly reduced from the original, which would have applied to approximately 5,800 inshore shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic, and to all three types of inshore nets. Authorities said fewer than 1,100 inshore shrimpers are at least 12.2 meters long.

Environmental groups have sued, arguing that all shrimpers should be shooting TEDs. This lawsuit, brought by the Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife and Turtle Island Restoration Network, is still in preliminary stages before Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell of the Federal District Court in Washington, DC.

All sea turtles found in US waters are either threatened or endangered.

NOAA Fisheries estimated that its original rule would have saved 2,500 sea turtles a year, but the revision will save less than half, according to the lawsuit.

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