Texas Turtles Safer From Shrimpers
by Johanna Congleton
Activists and sea turtles alike had cause to celebrate in August when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved new regulations that will prohibit shrimping during sea turtles' primary nesting season. In 1999, 450 threatened and endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches off the Texas coast. Most had died after becoming ensnared in shrimping nets, causing them to drown.
The south Texas coast will be closed to shrimping at least five nautical miles out from the shoreline from Dec. 1 to July 15. During this time of year, 88 percent of Texas' Kemp's ridley turtles - the most endangered sea turtles in the world - complete their nesting season on Padre Island. This small patch of land off the coast of Texas is the only place in the United States where ridleys still nest. The National Park Service has been working to increase the number of nesting females, but high shrimping traffic is undercutting such efforts.
In addition to the shrimping closure, Texas also placed new restrictions on the size and number per boat of shrimp nets, and will begin enforcing the use of Turtle Excluder Devices. The inexpensive TEDs prevent turtles from becoming caught in nets and drowning. A shrimp advisory committee will monitor and evaluate the program's success. Brian Sybert, the Sierra Club's natural resources director for the Lone Star (Texas) Chapter, has been appointed to the committee.
"The Club is now in a pretty powerful position," said Sybert. "We'll be working with scientists and the shrimping industry to try to get stronger regulations, including a year-round closure."
The Club, working in partnership with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, originally pushed for a year-round shrimping closure 17 nautical miles from the Texas shore. The public comment period for the closure plan drew 6,000 letters - more than the commission has ever received. Ninety-six percent were in favor of a year-round closure.
Texas activists are not alone in their concern for the dwindling population of sea turtles. In October, the U.S. Senate ratified an international sea turtle treaty for the Western Hemisphere, called the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles. The treaty requires the use of TEDs on all shrimp-trawling nets. It also protects nesting beaches, prohibits trade in sea turtles and products made from them, and calls for continued research and habitat conservation. Eight nations that are original signatories must ratify the treaty for it to become effective. When The Planet went to press, there were six.
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