NOAA Issues Final Rule to Require Turtle Excluder Device Use for all Skimmer Trawl Vessels 40 Feet and Greater in Length

December 19, 2019

FB19-080 Southeast Fishery Bulletin; For more information, contact: Michael Barnette, 727-551-5794, michael.barnette@noaa.gov

KEY MESSAGE:

In an effort to strengthen sea turtle conservation efforts, NOAA Fisheries published a final rule to require all skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and greater in length to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in their nets.  A TED is a device that allows sea turtles to escape from trawl nets.  The purpose of the rule is to aid in the protection and recovery of listed sea turtle populations by reducing incidental bycatch and mortality of sea turtles in the southeastern U.S. shrimp fisheries.

 

WHEN RULE WILL TAKE EFFECT:

Skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and greater in length that are rigged for fishing are required to install TEDs in their nets by April 1, 2021.  For purposes of this rule, vessel length is the length specified on the vessel’s state vessel registration or U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation required to be onboard the vessel while fishing.

 

NEW TED REQUIREMENTS AND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

  • Skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and greater in length rigged for fishing will be required to install and use TEDs designed to exclude small turtles in their nets.  Specifically, the space between the deflector bars of the new TEDs must not exceed 3 inches; escape openings must be oriented at the top of the net; and there are potential webbing restrictions on the escape opening flap depending on the type of TED grid and escape opening configuration.  For purposes of this rule, vessel length is based on state fishery license or vessel registration information required to be onboard the vessel while fishing.
  • NOAA Fisheries originally published a proposed rule in December 2016 that would have required all skimmer trawl, pusher-head trawl, and wing net vessels to use TEDs in their nets.  In response to public comment and further deliberation, however, the final rule was revised.
  • Additionally, NOAA Fisheries also amended the allowable tow time definition.  The new definition requires all vessels operating under the allowable tow time limit (e.g., skimmer trawl vessels less than 40 feet in length, pusher-head trawl vessels, wing net vessels, live bait vessels, etc.) to remove and empty their catch on deck within the tow time limit (i.e., 55 or 75 minutes, depending on season).  We believe the amended definition will improve the inspection of the net for potentially captured sea turtles and allow for their release unharmed.
  • The Gear Monitoring Team based out of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Pascagoula Lab’s Harvesting Systems Branch will be conducting numerous workshops and training sessions for skimmer trawl fishers.  Information on these sessions, as well as additional information (final rule, FEIS, FAQs) on the new TED requirements, will be posted on our website at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/bycatch/turtle-excluder-device-regulations.

 

This bulletin serves as a Small Entity Compliance Guide, complying with section 212 of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)

 

NEW REQUIREMENTS IN THE SOUTHEASTERN SHRIMP FISHERIES

 

What are the new requirements issued by NOAA Fisheries through this final rule?

  • Skimmer trawl vessels are currently allowed to use limited tow times in lieu of turtle excluder devices (TEDs).  Tow times are the amount of time a net is pulled underwater; limited tow times reduce the number of turtles that drown.
  • We have issued a final rule that amends the tow time requirement and requires all skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and greater in length rigged for fishing to use TEDs designed to exclude small turtles in their nets.  Vessels less than 40 feet in length are still required to adhere to tow time requirements.

 

What is a TED and how much does it cost?

  • A TED is device which includes an opening to allow sea turtles to escape from trawl nets.

 

Image of a turtle excluder device

 

  • TEDs for the shrimp fisheries cost between $325 and $550 per net, and are available at multiple net shops.

 

Why did NOAA Fisheries issue new TED requirements?

  • We issued this new TED requirement because tow times are difficult to enforce and because we have received information that tow time requirements are exceeded by vessels with skimmer trawls and are less effective than TEDs for conserving sea turtles.
  • This rule is the next step in a long-term strategy for sea turtle conservation.  Our sea turtle recovery and conservation program focuses on reducing primary threats, including reducing bycatch throughout the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries.
  • This new TED requirement is intended to further reduce bycatch (sea turtles caught unintentionally) and mortality of threatened and endangered sea turtles in the southeastern shrimp trawl fisheries in accordance with the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  We estimate as many as 1,158 threatened and endangered sea turtles will be protected and conserved annually as a result of this rule.  TEDs may also reduce bycatch of additional species such as sturgeon and other fish.

 

Who would be affected by the new requirements in the southeastern shrimp fisheries?

  • All fishermen using skimmer trawls rigged for fishing on vessels 40 feet in length and greater.  For purposes of this rule, vessel length is the length specified on the vessel’s state vessel registration or U.S. Coast Guard vessel documentation required to be onboard the vessel while fishing.  Skimmer trawl vessels less than 40 feet would continue to be regulated by tow time restrictions.

 

When are the new requirements effective?

  • All affected vessels rigged for fishing must have TEDs installed in their nets by April 1, 2021.

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Are the new TED requirements different than existing TED requirements for other vessels?

  • Yes, the new TED requirements are designed specifically to help exclude small sea turtles that frequently occur in shallow, coastal waters where skimmer trawls operate.
  • The new TED requirements include several configurations that use a TED grid with 3-inch (7.6 cm) bar spacing (i.e., less than the current 4-inch bar spacing maximum) and escape-opening flap specifications with lighter webbing that would allow small turtles to effectively escape the trawl net.

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Where can I find information on the new requirements?

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Did NOAA Fisheries analyze the effects of southeast shrimp fisheries on sea turtles and other endangered or threatened species?

  • Yes, we analyzed the effects of the rule to require TEDs in skimmer trawls on sea turtles and other listed species in a final environmental impact statement (FEIS).  The FEIS includes several management alternatives aside from the final rule, and information on the effects of all the alternatives to the physical, biological, human, and administrative environments.
  • The FEIS is posted on our website at: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/southeast/bycatch/turtle-excluder-device-regulations.

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Does the Fisheries Service plan to reinitiate consultations under the Endangered Species Act?

  • The shrimp fisheries currently have ESA Section 7 coverage and we regularly re-evaluates such fishery authorizations per the agency’s ESA responsibilities.  Based on new sea turtle bycatch data, new species listings under the ESA, and the beneficial effects of this rule on sea turtle populations, we are developing a new Section 7 biological opinion on the effects of the shrimp fisheries on threatened and endangered species.

 

What effect does the final rule have on observer requirements for skimmer trawl, pusher-head trawl, and wing net (butterfly trawl) vessels?

  • The final rule has no effect on the observer program requirements.  We currently require skimmer trawl, pusher-head trawl, and wing net (butterfly trawl) vessels, if selected, to carry observers.  Observers collect catch and bycatch data from U.S. commercial fishing vessels to assist in the fishery management process.
  • Observers are actively collecting data on sea turtles caught in skimmer trawls, pusher-head trawls, and wing nets (butterfly trawl).

 

What has changed in the final rule from the proposed rule?

  • The proposed rule would have required all skimmer trawl, pusher-head trawl, and wing net (butterfly trawl) vessels to use TEDs in their nets.  Based on public comment and further deliberation, we have revised the regulation to limit the TED requirements to skimmer trawl vessels 40 feet and greater in length.
  • The changes in the final rule impacts 80 percent fewer fishers and reduces the overall economic impact by approximately 73 percent compared to the proposed rule, while retaining many of the environmental benefits.

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Last updated by Southeast Regional Office on December 19, 2019