Harrison County supervisors talk turtles and pier repairs

HARRISON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - The subject of endangered turtles and fishing piers came before Harrison County supervisors again on Monday morning. Concerns about the Kemp's Ridley turtle delayed FEMA reimbursing the county for repairs made to the Jim Simpson Pier. It's the same issue that has delayed repair work on Gulfport's storm-damaged piers.

Repairs to the Jim Simpson Pier in Long Beach cost Harrison County $175,000. Before FEMA will reimburse that money, the project's impact on endangered sea turtles must be determined.

"It's like FEMA, or MEMA, doesn't know what NOAA needs. It's like the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. And we get caught in the middle," said Board of Supervisors President Marlin Ladner.

"The ultimate thing is to save these endangered species; which we are doing. This should be the model, not to be sanctioned," said Dr. Moby Solangi, who was invited to address supervisors on this issue.

The director of the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport told supervisors what he told WLOX News last week: the dozens of turtles IMMS has rehabbed and released, are actually counted against the federal quota that NOAA established for turtles hooked at fishing piers.

"And the numbers that were established as the quotas were not based on science. They're based on extrapolations and interpretations," he said.

Just last week, NOAA gave Gulfport the go-ahead to repair its fishing piers from Hurricane Isaac damage. That storm was 555 days ago.

But NOAA biologist, Bob Hoffman, told WLOX News his agency didn't receive the final necessary paperwork from FEMA until late December of last year.

The biologist from NOAA says one thing that will be required of these FEMA funded repairs to fishing piers will be the posting of signs, signs warning fishermen what to do, should they accidentally hook a turtle.

Such signage is already posted at places like the Biloxi small craft harbor.

County supervisors say they'd appreciate a little common sense as well.

"We know the value of that water and the fish and crabs and all the sea life that live in there. But at the same time, common sense has to play some part in dealing with these issues," said Board President Ladner.

NOAA biologist Bob Hoffman said some 500 endangered turtles were taken at fishing piers in Mississippi over the past three years.

Dr. Solangi said a study is needed to determine why a growing number of turtles are attracted to those piers. He said it's likely because their habitat has been adversely affected and the animals are simply in search of food.

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