From dolphins to turtles, Earth Island makes waves
by Alice Martinez
Public opinion has helped save dolphins. Can it work for sea turtles
ycatch is a problem in other fisheries too. A thousand
times more turtles are killed in shrimping than are killed in dolphin-tuna
fishing. Every year, approximately 155,000 sea turtles drown, entangled
in shrimp nets. Six of the world's seven species of sea turtles are now
listed as endangered. Shrimp trawling, the most wasteful fishery in the
world, destroys billions of pounds of non-target species annually. Earth
Island Institute, the folks who brought graphic footage of dolphin kills
to the forefront, have begun to apply their efforts to force shrimp fisheries
of the world to change their practices. Whether in restaurants, on boats
or in the courts, EII is working all the angles.
On January 5, 1996, Judge Thomas Aquilino of the United
States Court of International Trade (CIT) directed the Secretaries of State,
Treasury and Commerce (defendants) "to prohibit not later than May
1, 1996 the importation of shrimp or products of shrimp whereever harvested
in the wild with commercial fishing technology which may affect adversely
those species of sea turtles . . ."
The ruling on the lawsuit brought by EII, the Humane
Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of
Cruelty to Animals, and the Sierra Club, compels the State Department to
ban the importation of shrimp into the United States from all nations that
have not reduced sea turtle mortality from shrimp fishing operations by
97 percent, the level that can be achieved by the proper use of "TEDs"
(Turtle Excluder Devices) on all vessels.
Jack d'Antignac, U.S. shrimper and President of the
Georgia Fisherman's Association points out: "We have been using TEDs
and protecting sea turtles even before their use became mandatory in the
United States. Foreign countries not using TEDs are willfully killing sea
turtles. It's way past time that shrimpers from all countries start using
them in order to preserve our shared marine environment. Shrimp trawlers
owned by the Georgia Fisherman's Association members have been using TEDs
without exception, although there is an initial expense. The relatively
small loss of shrimp caused by TEDs is more than compensated for by the
improved quality of our catch. TEDs save turtles, reduce the unnecessary
killing of countless fish, and protect the marine environment on which we
all depend. It will be easy enough for other countries to adopt the use
of TEDs, if they have the sincere desire to do so."
And while EII is calling it "one of the greatest
conservation victories for sea turtles," others are saying it's too
soon to tell. The suit is being appealed and shrimp processors have been
burning up the phones to Congress. And while EII's tactics were ultimately
a part of consumers causing canners to give-in to dolphin-safe, the dynamics
of getting to "turtle-safe" both in the fisheries and politically
are considerably more difficult.
There were really never more than 100 tuna boats and
12 countries involved in the tuna-dolphin wars. Currently, in the U.S. alone
there are 25,000 shrimp boats and 45-50 countries are involved in shrimp
exports to the United States with turtles as part of the bycatch. Conservationists
working with sea turtle groups and fisheries worldwide are concerned that
using U.S. law to try to mandate changes creates backlash and resentment,
in addition to just having the market move elsewhere as was also the case
with dolphin and tuna. And depending on the reaction of Congress, insiders
expect to see another showdown with GATT.
At the same time as applying legal pressure, EII is
working to provide U.S. shrimp consumers a new option. Just as public demand
for dolphin-safe tuna forced the reform of the tuna-fishing industry, EII's
Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP) hopes that its new Turtle-Safe Shrimp
program will help reform the shrimping industry.
The Turtle-Safe program certifies shrimp fishers who
use TEDs. Turtle-Safe offers a positive "buycott" approach that
rewards shrimpers who are doing the right thing and motivates the rest of
the shrimp fleet to follow their lead.
TEDs are cheap and easy to use. A slanted metal grid
sewn into the end of a shrimp net guides sea turtles out an escape hatch,
while the shrimp drift through the grid and are retained in the net. TEDs
are not only 97 percent effective in saving sea turtles, but they also reduce
incidental capture of other fish and marine organisms, known as "by-catch."
For every pound of shrimp harvested without TEDs, ten pounds of bycatch
are thrown overboard, mostly dead. Fishers using TEDs spend less time separating
shrimp from bycatch, and the ocean ecosystem benefits from a better-targeted
fishery. Still, some shrimpers refuse to use the devices or deliberately
render them ineffective by sewing the escape hatch closed.
Until now, there has been no way to tell which shrimp
was caught without killing sea turtles. That uncertainty can change when
STRP's new Turtle-Safe logo begins appearing on shrimp products caught by
fishers who have agreed to use TEDs and to have their operations monitored
by Earth Island observers.
STRP does not certify shrimp raised on shrimp farms,
however, since shrimp farming can destroy habitat, pollute water and may
spread diseases to wild shrimp populations. Only wild-caught shrimp from
US boats will be certified as Turtle-Safe. In the future, STRP plans to
expand the program to include international shrimp fishers. Of the 50 countries
that supply 'turtle-tainted' shrimp to the US market, only 12 have laws
requiring TED use and compliance with such laws is not being monitored.
Boone Seafood of Darien, Georgia, is the first shrimper
to have all of its boat captains and owners sign Turtle-Safe agreements.
Boone's Turtle-Safe shrimp is now available in fine restaurants in the San
Francisco area and in food stores in Boston, with new outlets being added
every month. STRP has launched a major public education campaign to increase
the demand for Turtle-Safe shrimp. The project seeks committed individuals
and groups to help get Turtle-Safe shrimp into restaurants and food stores
across the nation. If you'd like to help in this project locally, contact
San Diego Earth Day at 272-7370.
Earth Island Journal is published quarterly by EII, 300 Broadway,
Suite 28, San Francisco, CA 94133. Phone: (415) 788-3666.