A group of environmentalists is threatening to sue NOAA because it's not working fast enough to protect turtles from interactions with Gulf Coast shrimp trawls.
Welcome to the federal management process, folks!
Now imagine the outcome of those slow-grinding wheels actually determined your livelihood. Seems slightly more uncomfortable, no?
NOAA is not stonewalling environmental groups to protect shrimpers. You'd be hard pressed to find a precedent for that type of action from NOAA or NMFS.
But to their credit, the agency has committed to some thorough research on the subject. Rather than jumping to the conclusion that non-governmental organizations have all the facts, NOAA's southeast regional administrator, Roy Crabtree, held meetings to discuss the targeted skimmer trawls in the summer of 2012. Skimmer trawls are used primarily in shallow waters like Louisiana bays and estuaries.
"We're not abandoning this issue, there's just more work that needs to be done to get it right," Crabtree said in November 2012. This statement followed NOAA's research of working skimmer trawls that indicated requiring turtle excluder devices on these trawls would not provide the predicted conservation benefit because TEDs don't work as well on inshore gear as they do on offshore otter trawls.
But why let the research muddy the waters? This lawsuit is an end-run around a system that is working to find a way to reduce turtle bycatch without destroying an entire fishery. It is the latest salvo in what appears to be systematic attack on Louisiana shrimpers, who have been hard hit by severe hurricanes and the massive BP oil spill in 2010. Most recently, environmental groups gathered behind the red-listing of Louisiana shrimp on the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch.
In a letter to NOAA yesterday, Oceana, the Center for Biological Diversity, Turtle Island Restoration Network and the Sea Turtle Conservancy wrote, “One year, 2 months, and 25 days (or 451 days) have passed since the Fisheries Service reinitiated consultation and it has still not issued a biological opinion.”
That's about the same amount of time it takes to get federal fisheries landings figures — and we have a system and process in place for gathering that information. We are still studying the effects of Corexit and oil contamination on the people and sea life in the Gulf Coast — with no firm conclusions. The spill began on April 20, 2010, and was plugged on July 15, 2010. It's been 3 years, 7 months and 5 days (or 1,316 days) since the spill was capped.
If we really want to solve the problem of turtle interactions with shrimp trawls, let's let NOAA finish the job of studying it. But if we want to get the big picture of what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico fisheries, we need to commit to more research on the oil spill.
Photo: A turtle escapes an offshore TED-equipped net; NOAA