NOAA report: Gulf shrimpers top killer of sea turtles in U.S. in 2005

A new national report on commercial fishing bycatch released by NOAA Fisheries states that at least 11,772 sea turtles were seriously injured or killed by U.S. fisheries in 2005. And of all the fishing operations, Gulf of Mexico shrimpers had the worst bycatch ratio.

The report estimates the Gulf fishing ratio was 76 percent, which means for every pound of shrimp caught, three pounds of other marine life, such as sea turtles or juvenile fishes, are caught and possibly killed.

Sea turtles were the hardest hit of all non-fish species as bycatch, said Chris Pincetich, a marine biologist with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project in California.

U.S. fisheries killed or seriously injured 11,772 sea turtles, 1,887 marine mammals, and 7,669 seabirds in 2005, Pincetich said, quoting the 500-page report.

Southeast fisheries, lead by the Gulf of Mexico shrimp trawl fishery, were responsible for 10,671 of the total sea turtles killed or seriously injured. Loggerheads were most impacted, representing 53 percent or 6,281 of the sea turtles, followed by the endangered Kemp’s ridley at 36 percent or 4,222. Loggerheads in the Pacific are now an endangered species.

In the report, the southeast fisheries bycatch ratio of 76 percent was almost three times higher than the next-closest fishery, the Pacific Islands region at 27 percent. Of 48 fisheries included in the southeast region, only 10 actually reported bycatch estimates, meaning only 17 percent of known landings could be evaluated by NOAA Fisheries for the bycatch reporting estimates, Pincetich said. Nationally, fisheries average a 17 percent bycatch and 63 percent of landings able to be evaluated.

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project works to have the federal govenment reduce the amount of bycatch and increase observer coverage in the fishing industry.Pincetich said, "The report validates our focus on these issues as a priority for sea turtle conservation.

"Since the data is all from 2005 it is not new news per se, but it adds more validity to background and ongoing discussions that the Gulf shrimp trawlers have the worst bycatch and kill the most sea turtles of any U.S. fishery," Pincetich said. "This long overdue review is required under the Endangered Species Act, the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and the reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act," Pincetich said.