State Dept., NOAA Continue Efforts to Help Save Sea Turtles

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Each year the State Department and NOAA conduct shrimp export certification programs with countries across the world. They make sure the wild shrimp they’re catching is keeping one thing out of their nets: sea turtles. Experts said bycatch from fisheries is one of the most significant threats these turtles are facing. 

Sea turtles play an important role in our ecosystem and in many countries, sea turtles are culturally significant. But by the late 1970s, sea turtles were dying at an alarming rate worldwide. The main cause was from getting trapped in mechanical shrimp trawls. All sea turtles in US waters and territories are on the endangered or threatened species list.  

“Sea turtles are a highly migratory species,” said Jared Milton, the State Department’s Office of Marine Conservation Section 609 Program Manager. “The impact of one country does to protect sea turtles will impact sea turtles around the world. Section 609 program is part of a US law. It aims to protect sea turtles.” 

This program has been in the works for awhile but each year the State Department and NOAA conduct an annual certification program with countries across the globe, prohibiting any wild caught shrimp from being exported to the US unless that country is using methods to protect the sea turtles.  

“For some countries there aren’t many measures they don’t need to take because of their cold-water environments or the depths at which they are shrimping,” said Milton. “For other nations they have sort of simple harvesting methods with manual efforts that have minimal impact on sea turtles. But for nations that are using mechanized trawling for shrimp there is a very high possibility of negatively affecting sea turtles so for those nations we require the use of a turtle excluder device or a TED on their trawling vessels.” 

At least a dozen nations are certified using TED and others are certified with other fishing conditions.  

“One of the greatest pleasures i have in this job is being able to board the shrimping vessels in countries around the world and hearing stories from the fishers about their own experience with turtle excluder devices,” said Milton. “They thought it would impact their catch or cause other problems but now they couldn’t imagine a world in which they weren’t using it.”