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Fight Goes on Over Turtle Devices for Shimp Nets

April 29, 1989 GMT

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A federal requirement that shrimp fishermen use devices aimed at helping preserve endangered sea turtles has bitterly divided environmentalists and shrimpers who claim it will ruin their industry.

″If this law isn’t changed, it will mean that the entire shrimping industry is out of business,″ Tee John Mialjevich, president of Concerned Shrimpers, said Saturday.

″It’s not that we don’t want to save turtles, it’s that we want to feed our families,″ he said.

Concerned Shrimpers, which Mialjevich said represents 2,000 shrimpers from North Carolina to Texas, was formed to fight the turtle excluder devices, commonly called TEDs.

U.S. District Judge Patrick Carr held a rare telephone hearing Friday afternoon after Louisiana Attorney General William Guste asked for a temporary restraining order blocking the requirement. Carr said he would rule Monday.

Already, shrimp fishermen have won a 60-day reprieve from hefty fines that were to go into effect Monday for boats that aren’t equipped with the TEDs, to free endangered sea turtles entangled in their trawls.

Last week, under congressional pressure not to strictly enforce the special net requirements, Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher said he was ordering the Coast Guard to issue only warnings through June 30 - instead of fines of up to $10,000 - to violators along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts.

Environmentalists maintain that the TEDs will help save the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction, and Mosbacher’s decision drew criticism from a federal biologist.

″The shrimpers think that the sky’s going to open up and God will save them again,″ said Jack Woody, national sea turtle coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. ″In this case, God is the secretary of commerce. I’m totally frustrated at this point.″

Shrimpers disclaim responsibility for most of the 11,000 turtle deaths estimated by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration each year.

″In 21 years of shrimping I’ve caught six Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and they all went right back into the water alive,″ Mialjevich said.

″I don’t know of but about a dozen shrimpers that have TEDs,″ Ted Shepard, director of the 400 member Louisiana Shrimpers Association, said Saturday. ″I don’t think most of them will tow them. They’re having a hard enough time making a living now.″

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TEDs fit into the mouth of shrimp trawls and have trap doors that let turtles escape.

Fishermen maintain the devices are dangerous to pull and clog easily, are expensive and reduce their harvests. The contention is disputed by researchers who say fishermen who learn to use devices correctly show no signs of loss. The ones based off Louisiana also argue that the endangered turtles are not found in the waters where they fish.

″This is an unbelievable horror story. There’s just no way this should be placed on the Gulf fishermen,″ Shepard said. ″You don’t get the Kemp’s turtles in the areas we shrimp in. They’re in the Atlantic and off the coast of Florida.″

Shrimpers have proposed alternatives, Mialjevich said, including a $25 fee on shrimping licenses each year dedicated to hatching and growing the turtles.

The two-month delay in enforcement approved by Mosbacher comes at the beginning of the sea turtle nesting season when thousands of the seagoing creatures come ashore to dig their nests on sandy beaches across the Southeast.

Previous studies have shown that more than 11,000 sea turtles drown in shrimp nets each year in the United States, incuding about 3,000 in the Gulf of Mexico.

″We don’t need to wait for another study to find out if they’re endangered,″ Woody said. ″They can call me and I’ll tell them for free. I’ve been putting little turtles in the ocean for 12 years and watching them disappear.″