A final rule requiring the use of turtle excluder devices in the Southeast shrimp skimmer trawl fisheries is being delayed until Aug.1, 2021, NMFS officials announced Tuesday.

The rule will require TEDs designed to exclude small sea turtles on skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and longer and amend the definition of trawl time. NMFS officials say covid-19 restrictions have slowed the agency’s effort to prepare for the new rule, which had been planned to take effect April 1.

Safety and travel restrictions “have limited our Gear Monitoring Team’s ability to complete the in-person workshops and training sessions on the final rule that we had anticipated and communicated to the public,” according to a statement from the agency.

“The delay in the effective date is to allow NOAA Fisheries additional time for training fishermen, ensuring TEDs are built and installed properly, and for responding to installation and maintenance problems when the regulations go in effect.”

NMFS will use social media, virtual online meetings and dockside workshops, instructional videos and other digital media to help the industry get ready.

Other measures to protect sea turtles in skimmer trawl fisheries may lie ahead. NMFS is again considering expanding the TED requirements to skimmer trawl vessels less than 40 feet in length, and whether additional rulemaking is warranted.

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