NOAA backs off turtle death data in the Gulf

Biloxi Sun HeraldAugust 12, 2011 

BILOXI -- NOAA Fisheries has data that shows Gulf shrimpers are now using their turtle-protection devices.

Partly because of this, the agency has decided not to impose emergency measures on the shrimping industry in order to stop the unusually high number of sea-turtle deaths in the northern Gulf since the BP oil spill in 2010.

For one thing, the biggest spike in sea turtle deaths this year came in April, a month before the shrimp season opened.

A spokeswoman for the shrimping industry called it “an absolute victory.”

Local shrimper Frank Parker said, “It means we’re off the hook for a little bit.”

And environmentalists said it’s an encouraging sign, but not the end of the issue.

The number of turtle deaths in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana shot up dramatically after the spill to more than 1,000 -- 443 of them this year. But NOAA had said the deaths were more consistent with drowning in a shrimp net than oil poisoning.

A group of environmental organizations that includes Turtle Island Restoration Network, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center For Biological Diversity threatened to sue if NOAA didn’t take emergency action to stop the deaths.

They used NOAA’s inspection and boarding numbers to show shrimpers weren’t making an effort to protect turtles. They showed shrimpers running with no protection or non-functioning turtle excluder devices in their nets.

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