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Louisiana helps inshore shrimpers buy turtle escape hatches

By AP | Oct 13, 2020

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Louisiana will help inshore shrimpers buy turtle escape hatches that will be required next year for some boats in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern Atlantic, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday.

The $250,000 program will pay up to 60% of the cost for two of the grates called “turtle excluder devices,” or TEDs, a news release said.

Big offshore shrimp trawlers have had to use such devices since late 1989. Protests against that rule included shrimp-boat blockades of Texas and Louisiana ship channels.

Five sea turtle species, all endangered or threatened, are found in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. Young Kemp’s ridley turtles — the most endangered species — forage close to shore in the Gulf and southeastern Atlantic. Green,loggerhead,leatherback, and hawksbill sea turtles regularly nest on U.S. beaches, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Starting April 1, turtle excluder devices will be required on many skimmer nets to protect juvenile turtles growing up inshore in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration originally proposed requiring them on about 5,800 boats using three kinds of inshore nets but scaled back to fewer than 1,100 boats using skimmer nets, the most common type.

They cost $150 to $350 each, and boats have nets on both sides. About 600 to 700 Louisiana boats will need the devices, according to the news release.

“I commend the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and their funding partners for putting this program together,” Edwards said. “My administration is committed to getting as much funding as possible to assist our fishing community.”

Sources of money include the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Deepwater Horizon Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project, the statement said.

Boats less than 40 feet (12 meters) long don’t need the devices. The grids are set into the nets near the small end.

Offshore trawls hold TEDs with bars 4 inches (10 centimeters) apart to deflect anything bigger to an opening at the top of the net. To protect smaller turtles, skimmer net TEDS will have 3-inch (7.6-centimer) openings, NOAA said.

The program is open to shrimpers who have current residential skimmer gear licenses, boats at least 40 feet long, and who have reported landings from 2018 to 2020.

Participants must attend a workshop put on by the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and NOAA’s gear monitoring team. Topics will include specifications for the skimmer TEDs, a review of the sea turtle regulations, where to buy approved TEDs and details of the repayment program.