The federal government says new shrimping regulations are needed to protect endangered sea turtles.
But shrimpers worry that it places a financial burden on them and reduces the amount of shrimp they catch.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration proposed a new rule in May that requires shrimp boats that fish with skimmer trawls to use turtle excluder devices.
These devices are designed to allow sea turtles — listed as either endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 — to escape if caught by shrimpers.
“In the past, we’ve had a lot of regulations based on bad science,” John Williams of the Southern Shrimp Association in Florida told The Daily Caller in an interview. “And that has really left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth in the shrimp industry.”
Williams called turtle excluder devices a “very sensitive issue.” While many shrimpers oppose the new regulations, Williams said his organization is waiting to see more data from the government before announcing an official position on it.
He expressed concern, however, that the type of turtle excluder devices already used by shrimpers will not work well with skimmers, which are used to catch shrimp in shallow water.
Williams suggested that his organization would like to work with the regulators to come up with a “different style” of device if the proposal goes into effect.
“These are small boats with small nets,” Williams said. “I think it would be a struggle to pull the same kind of [turtle excluder devices] as these offshore boats do.”
The government claims that sea turtles are “incidentally taken, and some are killed, as a result of numerous activities, including fishery-related trawling activities in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard.”
Current regulations already require most shrimp trawlers to have turtle excluder devices, though shrimp boats that fish with skimmer trawls have not been required to have them.
“The intent of this proposed rule is to reduce incidental bycatch and mortality of sea turtles in the southeastern U.S. shrimp fisheries, and to aid in the protection and recovery of listed sea turtle populations,” according to a summary of the rule.
But shrimpers are skeptical.
Clint Guidry, the president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, told the Houma Today newspaper in Louisiana last month that officials are jumping the gun with these regulations.
“They seem to be pulling the trigger on this rule before the science comes in,” Guidry said. “Their movement has been to automatically come straight at the inshore shrimp industry.”
Added Guidry: “It’s not good government to automatically put more regulation on a struggling industry.”