On January 17, the Louisiana Shrimp Association (LSA) sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) over a federal rule that would force certain kinds of boats to use devices that allow turtles to escape fishing nets unharmed.

The lawsuit was filed in New Orleans federal court on behalf of LSA by the Pelican Institute’s Center for Justice. According to the suit from the institute, the rule violates federal law “by failing to consider that sea turtles do not interact with shrimpers in inshore waters.” The suit also claims sea turtle nesting sites are “thriving.”

NMFS introduced the rule in 2021, specifically requiring skimmer trawl vessels to equip turtle excluder devices, which would then let sea turtles escape when caught in a fisherman’s net. Skimmer trawl vessels have an L-shaped frame that allows nets to be set below the boat in shallow waters. NOAA claims that these vessels are more of a risk to turtles that live close to the surface.

The lawsuit also states that the excluder devices could also allow shrimp to escape nets, and the new rule could cost shrimpers anywhere from $9.4 million to $44 million in revenue.

The Louisiana shrimpers can relate to other fisheries, such as Maine state lobstering, both deeply concerned about the fate of the industry. NMFS ruled in 2021 that the Maine lobster fishery must reduce the threat of gear entanglement to the endangered North Atlantic right whale. Since the 1850s, Maine lobstermen have ensured self-regulation within their fishery to ensure sustainability for the species and surrounding marine life.

Similarly, the LSA lawsuit shares that according to databases that date back to 1965, Louisiana inshore shrimp trawlers rarely encounter sea turtles. Over the 55 years and 128,781 trawl samples, there had only been two occasions where sea turtle interactions have been recorded.

This rule is in addition to exponentially low dockside prices inshore shrimpers have received for their catch over the past year, dropping from $3 a pound to $1.10 due to imports. With the cost to leave the dock, a low price per pound, and the excluder device, the skimmer trawl fishermen will not survive.

The shrimp industry has a $1.3 billion impact on the state of Louisiana and accounts for 15,000 jobs. One of LSA’s concerns is the upfront costs of the devices as well as the revenue loss for shrimpers, as those in the industry are already struggling to make ends meet.

“They can’t confirm one mortality of a sea turtle by skimmer trawlers. We do everything in our power to stay away from them and not catch them, and the smaller vessel shrimpers are going to lose their way of life.” Acy Cooper, president of the board of the Louisiana Shrimp Association shares.

“Instead of working with us, they want to push us out. They (NMFS) are trying to move forward with something that isn’t going to help the issue.”

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Carli is a Content Specialist for National Fisherman. She comes from a fourth-generation fishing family off the coast of Maine. Her background consists of growing her own business within the marine community. She resides on one of the islands off the coast of Maine while also supporting the lobster community she grew up in.

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