Turtle excluder devices -- Are the escape openings large enough?


Epperly, Sheryan P., and Wendy G. Teas
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All five species of sea turtles in continental U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the population sizes of all species remain well below historic levels. Shrimp trawling was determined to be the largest source of anthropogenic mortality of many of the species. As a mechanism to reduce the incidental catch of turtles in trawl nets, turtle excluder devices have been required intermittently in the shrimp fishery since 1987, and at all times since 1994. The expanded turtle excluder device (TED) regulations, implemented in 1994, were expected to reduce shrimp trawl capture of sea turtles by 97%. Recent evidence has indicated that the sizes of turtles stranding were not representative of the animals subjected to being captured by the shrimp trawlers. The purpose of our study was to compare the sizes of stranded sea turtles with the size of the TED openings. We compared the sizes of stranded loggerhead (Caretta caretta), green (Chelonia mydas), and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles, the three species most commonly found stranded, to the minimum widths and heights of TED openings. We found that annually a large proportion of stranded loggerhead turtles (33–47%) and a small proportion of stranded green turtles (1–7%) are too large to fit through the required minimum-size TED openings. The continued high mortality of sea turtles caused by bottom trawling is reason for concern, especially for the northern subpopulation of loggerhead turtles, which currently is not projected to achieve the federal recovery goal of reaching and maintaining prelisting levels of nesting.