SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - New federal rules designed to protect sea turtles could soon impact the shrimp industry in Mississippi.
The proposed regulation calls for expanding the use of turtle excluder devices known as TEDs.
Shrimp boats that fish offshore already use TEDs. Turtle excluder devices use metal grates that prevent turtles from getting caught in the nets.
The new rule would apply to skimmer nets, which generally shrimp in shallower waters.
"It would affect about half of our fleet, which currently uses skimmer nets. They've been having to adhere to tow time restrictions. Now, they'll have to use TEDs instead," said Rick Burris, who directs the DMR Shrimp and Crab Bureau.
The proposed regulation to expand the use of TEDs is the result of a federal lawsuit filed by a nonprofit conservation group called Oceana, which blames commercial fishermen for killing hundreds of sea turtles each year.
"Certainly they're being singled out. Oceana has had the shrimp industry as a target for a long time. Particularly as it relates to turtles," said David Veal, executive director of the American Shrimp Processors Association.
Veal says the statistics cited by the conservation group are suspect.
"The numbers that Oceana uses and quotes in its press releases far exceed the documented cases of interaction between the shrimp industry and turtles," said Veal.
Fishermen are concerned, because TEDs would be an added expense. It's one, they say, would also hinder their catch.
"I think the fear is that there will be a decrease in effectiveness. Every fisherman will tell you that a hole in a net is the place where product escapes when you're trying to catch it," said Veal.
"We encourage all of our fishermen to come to the meeting at the Biloxi Visitors Center on Jan. 11 and express their comments to NOAA Fisheries," said Burris.
The public hearing in Biloxi will be held from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 11 at the Biloxi Visitors Center located at Porter Ave. and Hwy. 90.