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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Florida News

Gulf Shrimpers Snagging Imperiled Sea Turtles 

TALLAHASSEE, FL - According to federal documents, shrimp boat nets in the Gulf of Mexico are still scooping up endangered sea turtles along with their catch, according to the National Wildlife Federation (NWF). A device called a "turtle excluder" has been designed to keep turtles out of the fishing gear. But NWF chief biologist, Dr. Doug Inkley, says many shrimpers are violating the law by using them improperly - or are not using them at all.

"It's lax in many areas, and it needs to be enforced. Those sea turtle excluder devices are very effective at keeping turtles from getting caught in shrimp trawler nets while allowing the catch of shrimp to be very effective."

The turtle excluder devices are metal grids that allow the sea turtles to push their way out. But shrimp boat captains complain when the turtles free themselves, some of their catch is also lost. NWF says one federal document rated the status of gulf sea turtles as "poor."

In one Louisiana port where shrimp boats were boarded, only three out of 29 vessels were using the turtle excluders, which are supposed to be mandatory, Inkley says.

"A lot of people still resist the idea of using these turtle excluder devices and deny they are really having an impact on sea turtles. The fact of the matter is, science has shown - we know."

He acknowledges that the Gulf Coast disaster put a lot of stress on communities and ecosystems, but says that is no excuse for not following the law, especially when failure to do so is putting sea turtles at risk.

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