Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Sea turtle escaping through TED opening (NOAA)Stronger Sea Turtle Protections Targeted by Congress

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Congress is weighing in on a rule that advocates say could save the lives of thousands of sea turtles every year.

Links of interest:
NOAA Fisheries: Office of Protected Resources
Defenders of Wildlife

Florida sea turtles turn up injured or dead in neighboring states because of the use of shrimp nets off the Gulf and south Atlantic coasts. Florida requires the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in all shrimp-fishing gear - but nationally, TEDS are required only for some fishing boats.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has recommended a rule to require escape hatches for turtles in the nets of all shrimp-fishing boats. Marydele Donnelly, director of international policy for the Sea Turtle Conservancy, explains why it's important to use the TEDs.

"Thousands and thousands of turtles have died because people have resisted using the technology, or have refused to use it. "

The National Marine Fisheries Service is in charge of authorizing commercial fishing practices in U.S. waters. Sierra Weaver, senior staff attorney for Defenders of Wildlife, explains why her group is concerned about this latest development. "While the agency is moving forward, folks in Congress - who claim to be concerned about the economic impact - are trying to circumvent that process and cut it off before it even starts."

Opponents of mandating use of TEDs say the devices affect their ability to catch shrimp and other, smaller sea life. Weaver counters that Florida fishermen already successfully use TEDs in shallow waters. 

Defenders of Wildlife feels strongly enough about the benefits of using TEDS to take public comments on its website. Weaver says, adding that she hopes Floridians weigh in.

"This is actually the time when the public should be weighing in with any information they might have about the needs for the proposed rule to protect the species, any economic challenges there might be out there - and the agency can take a look at all of it."

The House of Representatives passed a rider, attached to a larger appropriations bill, to take away funding to implement the new TED regulation the feds are recommending. The Senate is expected to take up the bill in the coming weeks.

The public can comment on the proposal until July 9 at defenders.org

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