Good news is turtles win with agreement

Published 2:15 pm Friday, August 26, 2011

The (Gulfport) Sun Herald, Gulfport, Miss.:

We’re glad to hear the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the shrimp industry have found common ground in an attempt to stop the mysterious deaths of sea turtles.

Several environmental groups, concerned that shrimpers weren’t doing enough to protect the turtles, had lobbied for a virtual takeover of the industry. But when NOAA investigated it found up to 87 percent of the shrimpers in some areas were properly using turtle excluder devices (TEDs), gadgets that allow turtles to escape shrimp nets.

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So, it rightfully rejected the call by the environmental groups for further regulation of Gulf shrimpers. But NOAA pointed out it will be watching for violators of the current regulations. Fair enough.

The Southern Shrimp Alliance, we are encouraged to hear, said it welcomes NOAA’s enforcement efforts.

“Deliberate efforts to skirt TED rules are unacceptable and hurt everyone in the fishery,” SSA Executive Director John Williams wrote in a letter on the subject. “Being in compliance is one very clear way our fishery can prove we are not the cause of an unusual number of turtle strandings. Being out of compliance just hands groups like Oceana a weapon with which to attack us.

“We can’t just look the other way when we see someone out of compliance. We all have to take responsibility for the fishery.”

The alliance has been holding workshops to make sure shrimpers know how to use the devices and know how important it is to the survival of the turtles, and the industry, that they use them.

NOAA deployed more people at the start of shrimping season to ensure shrimpers’ TEDs were working before their boats left the docks. For those who still aren’t motivated to save the turtles, NOAA has been writing tickets that can cost from $5,500 to $26,400.

And it will be doing an environmental-impact study to determine, with input from both sides, what more needs to be done.

Fishermen and environmental activists alike surely can agree on the importance of getting to the bottom of the turtle mystery.

All three are important to the Gulf. And that wondrous body of water is important to us all.