Temporary Exemption Sought from Turtle Excluder Devices
by Ed Lallo/Louisiana Seafood News
As the Louisiana shrimping community – especially in the eastern parishes – continues to recover from Hurricane Isaac, Louisiana’s congressional delegation is seeking a temporary exemption from turtle excluder devices (TED) by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Turtle excluder devices enable sea turtles caught in fishing nets to escape through special openings. Turtles sometimes are swept up into the fine mesh of a shrimper’s net, and drown when they cannot get away.
In two partisan letters to Dr. Jane Lubchenco, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator of NOAA, the Washington delegation is asking for a “temporary exemption from federal TED requirements for inland and offshore shrimp trawlers.”
Members signing the two letters included: Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, as well as House Members Cedric Richmond, Jeff Landry, John Fleming, M.D., Rodney Alexander, Charles Boustany, M.D., Bill Cassidy, M.D., and Steve Scalise.
Debris Hampers Shrimp Harvest
Debris left by the hurricane is severely impacting this year’s shrimp harvest. Increased debris in the water restricts the effectiveness of the TED device, as well as reduces a shrimper’s catch.
NOAA has granted temporary TED exemptions in years past after previous storms. Following Hurricane Isaac, current conditions of the waterways mirror those that occurred after earlier storms, where exemptions were given.
The Democratic Congressional Letter reaffirms the state’s wildlife and fisheries pledge “to monitor compliance with tow time restrictions in these areas and report all violations.”
Congress already has stated a general opposition to TED requirements. A bipartisan majority approved a House Amendment, extending a prohibition on TED enforcement.
The Louisiana delegation stated: “If Congress believes that TED’s should not be required during the best of times, they should not be required as shrimpers try to salvage what is left of their hurricane-shortened season.”
Seafood Board Makes Its Case
During meetings on Capitol Hill in mid-September, the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board asked the congressional delegation to help educate NOAA about the importance of issuing a temporary exemption for TEDs.
The Seafood Board was also there to educate lawmakers about the need for temporary exemption for bycatch reduction devices (BRD), which cut down on accidental capture of marine life in fishing nets.
“During our meetings on Capitol Hill, we had significant support from the Louisiana legislators in relaxing TED requirements for shrimpers due to the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac,” said Mike Voisin, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. “We also received support for the issue from those representing other Gulf States as well.”
While in Washington, D.C., Voisin joined Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Board, and Ewell Smith, executive director, to educate legislators on the issues of TED and BRD exemptions – but also legislation impacting H-2B guest workers.
The state’s seafood industry depends heavily on H-2B workers for harvesting and processing oysters, crabs, shrimp and other products.
“Our congressional delegation gets it,” said Pearce. “If you saw the nets coming out of the water filled with debris, you would know the TEDs are not working. Our representatives understand the importance to the Louisiana seafood industry of this temporary exemption to let the shrimpers do the job they enjoy.”
He added: “All that our shrimpers, and others in the Louisiana seafood community, want to do is to continue to supply this nation with one-third of the freshest, tastiest seafood – Louisiana seafood that is.”`
Shrimpers’ Nets Full of Debris
Pete Gerica, president of the Lake Pontchartrain Fishermen’s Association, believes at least 75 percent of the TEDs in Louisiana are impacted by storm-related debris, which is worse than after Hurricane Katrina
“This impact will last approximately three months until the winter storms can help dissipate the debris,” said Gerica, who lost his truck and engine to his boat during Isaac.
“Right now, shrimpers cannot work at all. They’ve been dropping test nets, which have been coming up completely full of debris.”
Lake Pontchartrain is seriously impacted from the south shore to the airport and Lake Borgne from Pointe aux Marchettes to offshore waters.
In fact, openings in the TED’s are getting clogged so quickly that bycatch caught in the devices are unable to escape.
The Seafood Board continues to work closely with all members of the Louisiana congressional delegation to provide the commerce department and NOAA with updated information on the severity of the situation.
Louisiana officials believe these temporary exemptions are essential for “our shrimping community to return to prosperity and profitability as soon as possible.”