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Turtle Excluder Device (TED)

Ingenious device lessens the impact of shrimp fishing on sea turtle populations

The Humane Society of the United States

Commercial shrimp fishers use a process called bottom trawling, whereby a large net is dragged across the ocean floor to scoop up crustaceans—along with everything else in its path.

This process is often compared to clear-cutting rainforests and is considered one of the most ecologically damaging forms of fishing. Endangered sea turtles are among the many marine creatures who are often killed by these nets when they get caught and dragged along, unable to escape and surface for air, and drown.

Six of the seven species of sea turtle are classified as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of threatened species, and commercial fishing poses one of the most serious threats to them. However, there is a device that, if used properly, significantly reduces the number of sea turtles who suffocate in these nets: the Turtle Excluder Device.

TEDs and how they work

The Turtle Excluder Device (TED) was created to lessen the impact of shrimp fishing on vulnerable sea turtle populations. The TED is a metal grid of bars that attaches to a shrimp trawling net. It has an opening at either the top or the bottom which creates a hatch to allow larger animals such as sea turtles, sharks, and larger fish to escape while keeping shrimp inside. When a heavy object hits the device, the hatch opens, providing an escape route.

In 1987, the United States implemented regulations that require all U.S. shrimpers to use TEDs on their trawlers. According to the United Nations, the U.S. shrimp fleet caught over 47,000 sea turtles each year before fishing for shrimp without TEDs became illegal.  In 1989, the United States passed a law known as the “shrimp-turtle law,” requiring that all countries that export shrimp to U.S. markets also use TEDs.

Many commercial shrimpers have embraced this device, even making their own, as it not only allows unwanted animals and debris to escape, but helps prevent the net from filling up with excess content or sustaining damage.

What are the problems?

The use of TEDs is not well-enforced, especially outside the United States. TEDs are easy to attach when an inspector is onboard, and just as easy to remove afterwards.

Local authorities in less developed countries lack the resources to enforce the regulations. Shrimpers may fear that TEDs will reduce the amount of shrimp they catch, or they may simply not like being forced to change their ways. Turtles may also be killed due to gear failures and multiple recaptures.

World Trade Organization (WTO) challenges have been issued to the U.S. shrimp-turtle law. To date, the WTO panel has upheld the U.S. ban on shrimp imports from countries that do not use TEDs.

What you can do to help

Urge the U.S. to apply stronger penalties to vessels that are caught not using TEDs, including stiff fines. This will provide a financial incentive for them to take the law seriously and reduce the threat to sea turtles.

Contact NOAA and your U.S. Senators and Representative. Outside of the U.S., contact the Ministries of Fisheries and the Environment.

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