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Seafood Watch red listing of Louisiana shrimp over gear, not sustainability, worries industry
SEAFOOD.COM NEWS [seafoodnews.com] --  October 10, 2013 --The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program has “red listed” shrimp caught in Louisiana state waters. The state stands alone among Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic states in the enforcement of the federal requirements to use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), which according to studies have proved effective in reducing sea turtle deaths and allowing their populations to begin a slow recovery.

Turtle excluder devices enable sea turtles, and other bycatch, caught in fishing nets to escape through special openings. Turtles sometimes are swept up into the fine mesh of a shrimper’s net and drown when unable to escape.

Under a 1987 state law backed by the Louisiana Shrimp Association, Louisiana officials are forbidden from enforcing TED requirements.

In 2010, as the Deepwater Horizon incident unfolded, a bill was put before Gov. Bobby Jindal to repealed the prohibition of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries enforcement of federal turtle excluder device laws for fishermen in state’s waters.

Introduced by Representative Eddie Lambert, House Bill 1334 passed both houses with little opposition but never made it off the governor’s desk.

“Avoid” Listing Solely on Harvesting Techniques

The Seafood Watch rating categories include: Super Green – Healthy for People and Oceans, Green – Best Choices, Yellow – Good Alternatives and Red – Avoid. Currently all Gulf shrimp is rated yellow. The new “red listing” for Louisiana landed shrimp will mean “Avoid: Take a pass on this items for now. They are caught or farmed in ways that harm other marine life or the environment.”

The new listing by Seafood Watch is not based on sustainability, but solely on harvesting practices. The failure of many Louisiana shrimpers to use TED’s, resulting in  the “Avoid” listing by Seafood Watch may damage public perception of Louisiana caught shrimp, as well as result in the loss of millions of dollars for state businesses.

During the past three years environmental groups have negotiated with various Louisiana state agencies and officials to try to implement a bycatch law. The state has yet to find an effective way to address concerns satisfying all parties involved.

“This is disaster for the Louisiana shrimping community,” said Larry Avery, managing partner of Gulf Island Shrimp & Seafood in Lake Charles, LA and a member of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board.  “Just as shrimp prices have started to recover while overseas shrimp producers continue to struggle with diseased infected shrimp, now this happens.  It could potential damage my business, as well almost every other business across the state.”

Kim Chauvin, owner of Bluewater Shrimp Company in Dulac, LA, said “this is just another effort by outsiders to cripple the Louisiana shrimping industry.  They don’t understand all the effort and hard work we have put into making sure our seafood is sustainable and safe, even without excluder devices.”

“We have worked hard on training our fishermen on proper NOAA tow times and bycatch release procedures,” she explained.

Retail Buyers Follow Recommendations

The Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch currently has more than 150 organizational and corporate members worldwide, and is supported by some to the top chefs and restaurants.  With more than $35 million in in yearly funding, it estimates that more than 13,000 retail outlets closely follow their buy/don’t buy recommendations

Retail buyers following the organization’s recommendations include; Costco, Trader Joes and Whole Foods, which prominently display the rating system in their store’s seafood departments and will not carry fish “red lighted” seafood.

“The world is watching our industry and taking notice, so it is time we take notice. At some point in the future the Louisiana legislature is going to have to address the issue and pass legislation that is acceptable to both the fishermen and environmentalists,” Avery said.

Seafood Watch recently upgraded U.S.-caught red snapper in the Gulf of Mexico to a “Good Alternative” recommendation because sound management has helped once-depleted populations recover.

A recently released assessment of the U.S. shrimp fishery in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic by the organization reaffirms that the U.S fleet is a global leader in addressing one of the most critical conservation threats facing sea turtles: bycatch of endangered and threatened turtles in shrimp trawl nets

Fishermen Following Regs May be Penalized

The new “red listing” is for shrimp caught only in Louisiana state waters only.  However a majority of the state’s docks and processors do not label or separate shrimp caught in state waters, to those shrimp caught elsewhere.

“The new listing will only affect shrimp caught in state waters, however If a shrimp is landed in Louisiana, whether it comes from Texas or another Gulf state, it may be included,” said Lance Nacio, owner of Anna Marie Shrimp in Montegut, LA and a member of the state’s Shrimp Task Force.

Nacio, a fisherman who uses TEDs, skimmers and bycatch reduction devices (BRD), feels confident that he can pass any required standards. He lands seafood at his own dock, and regularly ships shrimp to the west coast as well as to Whole Foods.

“I fish in state waters and I like the results of TEDs in trawls and BRDs in skimmers. They make for a cleaner catch as well as produce a better quality shrimp,” he said.

A Louisiana fisherman using all the  federal best practices standards for shrimping, Nacio might suffer from the “Avoid” listing.

“Even when conscientious Louisiana fishermen voluntarily comply with regulations that protect sea turtles, the state’s mandate not to enforce this essential measure creates a critical conservation concern and an ‘Avoid’ recommendation for all shrimp caught in Louisiana,” said Margaret Spring, vice president of conservation and science for the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who assisted in crafting the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act that has been instrumental in the recovery of fisheries in U.S. waters

TED’s Used By Other Gulf States

“In all other shrimping states – from the Carolinas to Texas – use of Turtle Excluder Devices has been effective in reducing impacts on sea turtles,” Spring said. “We applaud the strong federal and state fisheries management policies that require TEDs, and the conscientious shrimp fishermen who are using TEDs. They are leading the way in sea turtle recovery.”

“Seafood Watch assesses wild-caught and farmed seafood based on peer-reviewed science reports and fully transparent criteria that we publish on the Monterey Bay Aquarium website,” said Seafood Watch Director Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly.

“If there’s a change in Louisiana’s management of its shrimp fishery to address the critical conservation concern around sea turtles, we can quickly revisit our recommendations to reflect that change,” she added.

In addition to using TEDs to protect sea turtles, Kemmerly said that most U.S. shrimp boats use bycatch reduction devices that play a vital role in the recovery of commercially important fish species, like red snapper, that would otherwise be accidentally killed in shrimp trawling gear.

Bycatch reduction devices and TEDs are not required on the skimmer trawls used by some shrimp boats. Shrimp caught using skimmer trawls – a small fraction of total U.S. shrimp landings – also remains on the Seafood Watch “Avoid” list.

According to the organization, Seafood Watch regularly assesses wild-caught and farmed seafood based on peer-reviewed science incorporating input from fishing interests, academic experts, and federal and state fishery scientists and managers – including information from NOAA’s Fish Watch.

This story originally appeared on Seafood.com, a subscription site. It is reprinted with permission.

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