DMR defends shrimpers in turtle deaths debate

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The DMR staff and commissioners Tuesday joined the debate about TEDs, or Turtle Excluder Devices. They came to the defense of shrimpers, who are being blamed by a federal agency for an increased number of turtle deaths.

Large shrimp boats have long been required to pull TEDs, which are designed to keep endangered sea turtles out of the nets.

Commissioner Steve Bosarge represents the commercial fishing industry.

"The shrimping industry in Mississippi pretty well feels like we've been accused without any proof," he said at the monthly commission meeting.

NOAA is considering more regulations, based on its data, which suggests the shrimping industry is responsible for the growing number of dead turtles. But the DMR's own evidence suggests something else may be to blame.

Joe Jewel is with the Marine Fisheries division.

"The initial landings of these turtles, the mortalities when they started occurring was about mid-March. And the peak occurred in April. And this is the time when the shrimping industry was all docked. The season was not even open at that point," he said.

With the DMR's own evidence suggesting that shrimpers are not the primary culprit for the increase in turtle deaths, the commission chairman said it seems a more in-depth study is needed.

"It's critical that we understand what's going on here, especially if there's any possibility that it's going to result in increased regulations that are going to impact the industry," said Chairman, Dr. Vernon Asper.

"There's absolutely no way that the shrimping industry caused these turtle deaths. Like Dr. Vernon Asper said, I wish we could find out what really did," said Commissioner Richard Gollott.

"What we really need is a holistic approach that addresses what really is going on out there. Because the overwhelming evidence is not pointing to what is being pointed out as the cause, which is the shrimping industry," said Jewel.

The DMR staff is preparing a response to NOAA on the issue. Shrimpers are encouraged to forward their comments as well.

NOAA is considering several options with the TED regulations. One proposal would require smaller "skimmer trawls" to be equipped with the devices. The agency could also decide to make no changes in existing regulations.

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