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This Simple Device Could Save Thousands of Turtles — But It’s Not Required By Law

posted: 11/13/15
by: Danny Clemens
Turtle escaping via a TED
NOAA Fisheries

There's a nasty thing in the fishing industry known as bycatch.

Certain types of commercial fishing operations employ trawling boats, which drag a giant net that captures anything and everything in its path. A trawling net, however, can't tell the difference between the shrimp that it's intended to capture and the sea turtles and other marine life that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. These non-target species that end up in the nets are collectively known as bycatch, and it can be difficult -- if not impossible -- for those animals to escape.

As one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, the ocean is home to over a million different species of plant and animal life, and there's a lot of opportunity for bycatch. In the southeastern United States alone, commercial fisheries produce nearly 230 million pounds of bycatch each year. Much of that bycatch isn't removed from the net until it's too late, and millions of pounds of dead or dying marine animals are simply thrown back into the ocean.

Related: 800-Pound Sea Turtle Found Dead, Likely from Entanglement

Turtles are especially vulnerable to trawling nets. Despite the fact that every living species of sea turtle is considered to be either endangered or vulnerable, more than 50,000 sea turtles are caught by the Atlantic shrimp fishery each year.

In the 1970s, NOAA developed a device that significantly reduces the number of turtles that end up snarled in trawling nets. Known as a turtle excluder device (TED), the contraption utilizes a series of mesh-like metal frames that prevent turtles and other large, non-target marine animals from becoming ensnared in the trawl. By the U.S. Department of State's own estimation, modern TED technology can reduce sea turtle mortality by up to 97%.

While some fishing operations in certain states are required by law to employ TED technology in their nets, there is no uniform legislation that requires the use of such common-sense devices. Oceana, our conservation partner, is calling on President Obama to take a stand for the sea turtles and require the use of TEDs on every shrimp trawling boat.

A blanket deployment of TEDs would not only save more than 50,000 turtles annually, but also prevent 55 million pounds of sharks, rays, crabs and non-target species from falling victim to indiscriminate trawling operations.

Click here to sign Oceana's petition urging President Obama to protect the sea turtles.

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On Wednesday, December 2nd, Discovery will present a global broadcast of Racing Extinction, a powerful eco-thriller that exposes issues of endangered species and mass extinction. Visit RacingExtinction.com for more information.

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