Fishermen voice frustration, anger to NOAA

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - A recent study from NOAA Fisheries Services showed that there has been a spike in sea turtle deaths in the last year. NOAA is putting the blame on fishermen, and considering stricter regulations when it comes to trawling.

Wednesday, the agency held a scoping meeting with fishermen to hear concerns and comments.

Members of the fishing community who attended the meeting were in an uproar over accusations that shrimpers are to blame for the recent increase in turtle deaths.

"We're being told for the second time that we are ecological disaster. And, we work closer with wildlife and seafood than anyone else," said 7th generation fishermen Edward Danny Ross.

Fishermen are unhappy with the idea of regulation changes, because they feel it will further damage an industry that has seen so many troubles. They made those feelings known during the meeting with NOAA.

One fisherman believes that NOAA's study is nothing but propaganda from people trying to protect their jobs.

"I want all the documentation. I want everything that has to do with why this law came about," said another.

Data from the NOAA Fisheries Service shows that almost 600 turtles were stranded in 2010, nearly half of those during the oil spill.  NOAA believes the deaths are due to drowning, which is associated with fisheries interactions. That's why the agency is considering stricter regulations.

"I think we really need to think through why these regulations are needed...We really don't know the exact cause of the mortalities at the moment, and regulations would be premature at this time," said Institute of Marine Mammal Studies Director Moby Solangi.

Officials at the IMMS say there are a number of factors that could account for the deaths, and that more regulations might not be the answer.

"These animals have to be protected, there's no questions about it, but we also need to be basing it on scientific evidence," said Solangi.  "We need to know the abundance of the species, how many animals there are, what are the actual other causes that are causing mortality, and finally, where are they coming from?"

Solangi and IMMS do not believe that all the turtles washing ashore have died in Mississippi.

NOAA is looking at several alternatives when it comes to these regulation changes, including no change at all.

The scoping meetings are just one step in a long process of determining the best course of action.  Officials say all the comments and concerns will be taken under consideration.

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