Southeast Region - Sea Turtles and Trawl Gear

The Issue

Incidental capture, injury, and mortality during fishing operations are a major threat to marine turtles. To reduce the mortality of sea turtles incidentally captured in shrimp trawl gear, NMFS, in partnership with the commercial shrimp trawl industry and others, developed turtle excluder devices (TEDs). Industry representatives continue to participate in developing and assessing new TED designs and modifications. TEDs large enough to exclude even the largest sea turtles are now required in shrimp trawl nets. TEDs are also required in the southeastern summer flounder trawl fishery, and NMFS is looking at the applicability of TEDs to other trawl fisheries that interact with sea turtles.

Current Management Actions Related to Sea Turtle Bycatch

Regulatory Background

Sea turtles are incidentally taken and killed as a result of numerous activities, including fishing operations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic seaboard. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its implementing regulations, taking sea turtles is prohibited (with exceptions identified in 50 CFR 223.206 or in accordance with the terms and conditions of a biological opinion issued under section 7 of the ESA or an incidental take permit issued under section 10 of the ESA). The incidental taking of turtles during shrimp or summer flounder trawling is exempted from the take prohibition if the conservation measures specified in the sea turtle conservation regulations (50 CFR 223.206, 50 CFR 223.207) are adopted. The regulations require most shrimp trawlers operating in the southeastern United States to install a NMFS-approved TED in each net that is rigged for shrimp fishing to enable the escape of sea turtles. NMFS gradually phased in TED requirements and has provided numerous workshops and programs to work cooperatively with the fishing industry on TED issues.

In 2003, NMFS issued a final rule (68 FR 8456, February 21, 2003) amending the sea turtle conservation regulations to protect large loggerhead, green, and leatherback sea turtles. The final rule requires that all shrimp trawlers fishing in the offshore waters of the southeastern United States and the inshore waters of Georgia and South Carolina use specific TEDs and TED openings large enough for these larger turtles to escape. Also in 2003, NMFS launched the Strategy for Sea Turtle Conservation and Recovery in Relation to Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Fisheries to evaluate and address sea turtle bycatch on a per-gear basis across jurisdictional and fishing sector boundaries in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Click here for more information on the Sea Turtle Strategy. The Strategy is currently evaluating trawl gear comprehensively throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico (see 72 FR 7382, Feb. 15, 2007) to determine whether TEDs or other measures may reduce interactions with sea turtles in those fisheries, many of which have documented takes of sea turtles.

Internationally, NMFS and the U.S. Department of State have worked with other nations that export shrimp to the United States to help them develop TED programs similar to the U.S. program. These programs are now in place in about 15 countries; for more information please see Public Law 101-162 (1989). In addition, the first multilateral binding treaty devoted solely to sea turtle conservation-the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC) (2001) - is another important framework to further promote TED programs in other countries.

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