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Lawsuit To Protect Sea Turtles Could Mean Stricter Regulations for Fishermen

By Rhonda Miller | Published 27 Jul 2011 12:23am | comments
Fishermen attend a meeting in Biloxi sponsored by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

During the past year-and-a-half 1,000 dead sea turtles have washed ashore on the Gulf coast.  MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports a potential lawsuit to protect turtles could mean stricter regulations for fisherman.

At last night’s National Marine Fisheries Service meeting in Biloxi, about 25 fishermen showed up, most of them Vietnamesee. The discussion focused on sea turtles getting caught in shrimp nets.  

Michael Barnett is a biologist with the Marine Fisheries Service and says he’s heard shrimpers complain about being blamed for sea turtle deaths.

"It’s understandable, but at the same point we have to explore all these issues," Barnett said. "We’re not singling them out. We’re also looking at all other issues. Obviously the BP Deepwater event is being pursued. We’re  also looking at dredge impacts."

One thing that set off the potential lawsuit is whether fishermen are using devices in their nets to protect sea turtles. Chris Pincetich is with the California-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project, the group considering the lawsuit.

"We haven’t named a single shrimper in this lawsuit," Pincetich said. "We just want to know the current management is enforcing the rules, and the rules are adequate."

Dale Diaz is director of the state Office of Marine Fisheries and said the agency does enforce the rules, and has been especially vigilant during the spike in sea turtle deaths.

"Some days we would send the plane and the boats out and there would be no shrimp boats actually trawling in the Mississippi Sound. The most that we documented during that time frame of March and April was six boats out at one time," Diaz said.

While some are pushing for change, fisherman Tuan Dang of Biloxi said he does not believe there’s a need for stricter regulations.

"It just makes it harder for our fishermen. I mean their livelihood is already hard enough,"  Dang said.

 The possible lawsuit could require more rules for shrimp boats and could close some areas of the Gulf to shrimping.

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Fishermen attend a meeting in Biloxi sponsored by the National Marine Fisheries Service.


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