Defenders is fighting back against a rule put in place by the Trump administration that weakened plans to keep sea turtles from drowning in shrimp nets in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeastern Atlantic Ocean. 

During the Obama administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service had proposed closing a loophole in regulations that resulted in an estimated 3,000 preventable sea turtle deaths each year. 

The loophole allows the exemption of nearly 6,000 shrimp trawlers plying nearshore waters from using turtle excluder devices. These devices, known as TEDs, use slanting metal bars set three and four inches apart to deflect sea turtles and other large marine wildlife from the nets while allowing shrimp to slip through. 

The Trump administration drastically scaled back the move to require the devices on all shrimp trawlers by maintaining the exemption for boats smaller than 40 feet. This means that fewer than 1,100 boats will use the devices and that an estimated 1,300 preventable sea turtle drowning deaths will still occur each year.

“TEDs are an effective, affordable, proven technology that enables shrimp fishing and sea turtles to coexist,” says Jane Davenport, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The Fisheries Service has ignored the science proving that TEDs are critical to saving sea turtles and the history demonstrating that TEDs are a win-win for shrimp fishers and turtles alike.”

Shrimp trawling in U.S. waters affects five sea turtle species protected as endangered or threatened: the green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and loggerhead. These sea turtles are also imperiled by nesting habitat loss, plastic pollution, the lingering effects of the Deepwater Horizon disaster and climate change. On average, shrimp trawlers routinely kill and discard about three pounds of unintended, untargeted marine life for every pound of shrimp they collect.

“The new rule is especially devastating for the Kemp’s ridley, the smallest and most endangered of the world’s sea turtles,” said Davenport. “We cannot stand by and let it go unchallenged when we know how to protect these turtles from dying painful and preventable deaths. The law requires no less.”

Defenders sent a notice of intent to sue the Fisheries Service under the Endangered Species Act in January. The new rule goes into effect in April.

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