On Friday, October 15, The U.S. Department of State certified Mexico’s turtle excluder device (TED) program, permitting the importation of wild shrimp.
Wild-harvested shrimp and shrimp products from Mexico had been prohibited since April 20, 2010, under Section 609 of United States Public Law 101-162, legislation designed to protect certain species of sea turtles. Friday’s certification is based on findings that Mexico’s use of turtle excluder devices is now comparable in effectiveness to the U.S. program, and coincides with the reopening of Mexico’s six-month commercial shrimp harvesting season.
The Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles
Fourteen countries in the Americas and the Caribbean belong to the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles (IAC), which promotes the protection and conservation of six species of sea turtles:
- The Green turtle
- Hawksbill turtle
- Kemp’s ridley turtle
- Leatherback turtle
- Loggerhead turtle
- Olive ridley turtle
All six of these species are listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, though protection of sea turtles requires the cooperative effort of all countries where the turtles are found. The 14 countries bound to the IAC have agreed to strict measures to protect sea turtles, including the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on all shrimp trawl vessels.
Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs)
Turtle excluder devices, first developed in the 1970s, have been required for all U.S. shrimp trawlers since 1987, and, since 1989, for trawlers in countries that export wild-caught shrimp to the United States. Shrimp trawlers use fine-mesh nets that, without TEDs, can trap larger marine life, as well as the targeted shrimp. Sea turtles are air-breathing animals, and once they are trapped underwater they drown.
A TED consists of a grid of bars that is incorporated into the net structure, together with a small opening above or below the grid. This combination prevents any bycatch sized 10 centimeters or more from being swept back into the net, and also allows them to escape through the net opening. TEDs are not foolproof, however, since the escape openings can be closed off to prevent the loss of shrimp that can occur through those openings. Concerns about the use of TEDs in Mexico prompted the U.S. action last spring.
The U.S. Prohibition on Importation of Wild-Harvested Shrimp
In March, 2010, the U.S. government announced a prohibition on the importation of wild-caught shrimp from Mexico, although, fortunately for the Mexican fishing industry, implementation of the restriction was delayed until April 20, after the close of the commercial season. The de-certification was based on reports from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) inspectors that shrimp vessels had been observed fishing with closed TEDs.
The prohibition affected wild-harvested shrimp only. Farmed shrimp were excluded from the import ban, although shrimp trawlers account for most of the exports to the U.S., estimated at more than 250 million dollars in 2009. Fortunately for Mexico, the ban was imposed just after the six-month commercial season ended, and has now been lifted as the season resumes.
The U.S. Government’s Re-certification of Mexico’s Shrimp Fishing Practices
On Friday, October 15, 2010, the U.S. Department of State released a notification that Mexico was again certified under Public Law 101-162, based on a determination that the use of TEDs was now comparable to practices in the U.S. Since last April’s ban, Mexico has implemented an action plan to improve the shrimp trawl fisheries’ protection of sea turtles through improved TED use.
This action lifts the prior ban, and once again permits the importation of Mexican wild-harvested shrimp into the United States. In addition to the commercial fisheries exports, tourists also are permitted to bring wild-caught shrimp back into the U.S.