In June, the local fishing and seafood industry, supported by market-driven approaches to conservation, were successful in increasing enforcement of turtle conservation regulations in the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of cross-sector collaboration, the Louisiana legislature unanimously passed a bill repealing a ban on enforcement of turtle excluder device regulations. The Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, an industry group, worked closely with the legislature to advance the issue and recommend the new bill which rolled back a previous state law that prevented agents of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries from enforcing turtle-excluder device (TED) use as mandated by a federal statute.

The Federal regulation was designed to reduce capture of sea turtles, all species of which are considered either endangered or threatened, in otter trawl gear. TEDs are installed in an otter trawl net to maintain the catch of intended species, but allow turtles to escape unharmed. Other states with Gulf of Mexico shorelines, along with South Atlantic states, have been enforcing the Federal statute requiring use of TEDs in otter trawl fisheries.

By working with fishermen on the water in their Gulf of Mexico shrimp Fishery Improvement Project, or FIP, Conservation Alliance member Sustainable Fisheries Partnership (SFP) learned of the Louisiana law that prevented their state law enforcement agents from enforcing federal TED requirements. This left TED enforcement to federal agents, who are few and far between, and, by default, reduced outreach to Louisiana shrimpers that typically teaches proper installation and maintenance of TEDs to maximize both shrimp harvest and turtle escapement. Recognizing that market pressure might encourage change, SFP worked closely with the supply chain and encouraged the Louisiana shrimp industry to pursue a change of their state law.

Concurrently with SFP’s work with the Gulf Coast fishermen, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program began the process of updating their scientific assessment and rating of Gulf of Mexico shrimp. While previously the Gulf of Mexico shrimp industry was assessed as a whole and rated a “Good Alternative”, the program’s increasingly detailed approach combined with a new understanding of the reduced level of TED enforcement in Louisiana led to an “Avoid” recommendation for shrimp from Louisiana in the updated Seafood Watch assessment, while the rest of the fishery retained the “Good Alternative” recommendation.

Large retail purchasers of the fish worked with the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force and the legislature to repeal the law. The Seafood Watch rating change of Louisiana shrimp also meant that retailers with strong sustainability commitments to not purchase “Avoid” rated product, were no longer willing to purchase the fish. Retail store customers became aware of the situation, as did 13,000 restaurants across the country who refused to sell Louisiana shrimp.[1] Gulf Shrimp comprises about two-thirds of US shrimp landings annually, and a majority of that is brought to the dock in Louisiana.[2]

With leverage applied by retailers, fishermen, NGOs, and consumers, incentives changed in favor of repealing the Louisiana law. “In talking with key stakeholders over the past year we learned that concerns around consumer perception, business pressure, and support from key players in the industry itself helped to pave the way for the long-overdue repeal,” said Jennifer Dianto Kemmerly, of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Of the change, Kathryn Novak, director of SFP’s buyer engagement, says, “The repeal of the Louisiana law is a story that demonstrates that collaboration across sectors and throughout the length of the supply chain can lead to big wins for conservation and for fishermen, which is what sustainability is all about.”

 


 

[1] The Times-Picayune (June 10, 2015). House passes bill allowing enforcement of turtle-excluder provisions, sends it to Jindal. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2015/06/louisiana_house_repeals_turtle.html

[2] The Times-Picayune (March 27, 2014). Louisiana shrimp harvest slightly down in 2014, and prices up. Retrieved from http://www.nola.com/environment/index.ssf/2014/03/louisiana_shrimp_harvest_sligh.html