Workforce Development: Helping shrimp fishermen in Texas keep sea turtles safe
By Tiffany Evans, Texas Sea Grant College Program
Texas Sea Grant is helping shrimp fishermen keep sea turtles out of their nets — and the shrimpers out of hot water with enforcement officers.
Under a Sea Grant/NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Exchange Program, Dale Stevens, a Fisheries, Methods and Equipment Specialist with the NMFS Gear Monitoring Team, visited the Texas coast earlier this year to train Texas Sea Grant Extension Agents to correctly assemble, install and inspect turtle excluder devices, or TEDs. TEDs are federally mandated metal grills in shrimp trawl nets designed to guide sea turtles and other larger marine life out of the net. Even minor errors in a TED can impair its effectiveness — and result in costly fines for shrimp fishermen.
Texas Sea Grant’s Jefferson and Chambers Counties Agent Terrie Looney, lower left, examines a TED in the classroom portion of the training conducted by Stevens, right, with assistance from Graham. Photo by Tony Reisinger/Texas Sea Grant
“With the limited resources we have in the gear technology division at NOAA, this training gives us more boots on the ground to assist fishermen throughout the state when they have questions or concerns about the legality and/or use of their TEDs," Stevens said. “When a fisherman can call a NOAA Gear Specialist or a Texas Sea Grant Agent and have their gear checked dockside, they can go to sea with some degree of assurance that their gear is in compliance with federal law and therefore not have the worry or concern of receiving a fine or violation for the use of improper gear."
NMFS developed and introduced TEDs in the 1980s after all five Gulf and southeastern U.S. sea turtle species had been listed as endangered or threatened. Entanglement in fishing nets had been one of the greatest threats to sea turtles. Since then, NMFS has continued to improve the TED design, which now has a 97 percent success rate.
Stevens led Texas Sea Grant Agents from five coastal counties through a short classroom program before he and Gary Graham, Texas Sea Grant’s Marine Fisheries Specialist, took the group aboard working shrimp boats for hands-on training with TEDs, including checking measurements and TED placement. If a vessel had a non-compliant TED, Graham and Stevens explained the deficiency to the boat owner or captain and how to fix it — something the Texas Sea Grant County Agents are now able to do for vessels in their counties.
Dale Stevens, National Marine Fisheries Service Gear Monitoring Team Fisheries, Methods, and Equipment Specialist, center, supervises Texas Sea Grant’s Matagorda County Marine Agent Bill Balboa and Calhoun County Marine Agent Rhonda Cummins as they measure the opening on the "flap" or cover of an offshore TED. Photo by Tiffany Evans/Texas Sea Grant
David Aparicio, co-owner of Anchor Seafood in Palacios, said having Texas Sea Grant staff members do these inspections and share their knowledge is important to him and other local owners.
“If we are doing something wrong, it’s nothing that we are doing intentionally,” Aparicio said. “We are grateful to have Gary and others show our captains and shrimpers how to properly set up the TEDs and share the regulations with them. Fines can be costly and hurt my shrimpers. Also, if we’ve had problems, they can help us address them.”
Since completing the training, Bill Balboa, Texas Sea Grant’s Matagorda County Marine Agent, has inspected TEDs aboard vessels in Sargent and Palacios at the request of fishermen.
“I am really excited about the training, which allows me to do this work to help fishermen ensure they’re operating legally and also develop stronger relationships with them,” Balboa said. “I want to remain engaged in the TED process, to stay involved and make this a regular part of my job.”