House Gets Bill To Let State Agents Enforce Sea Turtle Law

NEW ORLEANS (AP) – The Louisiana House has been sent a bill to allow state wildlife officials to enforce federal laws requiring shrimp nets to include escape hatches for sea turtles.

         The House Committee on Natural Resources and the Environment approved the bill without objection Wednesday after hearing that some groups and businesses are boycotting Louisiana shrimp because of the ban.

         "It's worse than not buying the shrimp. It's that certain groups promote not buying shrimp from Louisiana," Randy Pausina, head of fisheries for the department, said during a hearing in a livestream via the Internet.

         The Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch," which is popular with environmentally conscious people, has recommended at least since 2013 that people avoid Louisiana wild-caught shrimp, which are caught mostly in state waters, because of the ban. Some major restaurants and retailers pay attention to the recommendations.

         State Rep. Robert Billiot, D-Westwego, asked, "Are these the same corporations we give tax breaks to?"

         All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are endangered or threatened. In the mid-1980s, when Louisiana's law was passed, the federal rule requiring "turtle excluder devices" in shrimp trawls was new and contentious. Hundreds of shrimp boats once barricaded ports over it.

         Before passing the repeal bill, the committee voted to make any seafood retailer "who boycotts or otherwise refuses to purchase shrimp caught in Louisiana" ineligible for any state incentive.

         Another amendment would require Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents to wear body cameras while enforcing laws dealing with the escape hatches. Pausina said he was worried that the department would not have the money to buy enough cameras, and would not be able to get them by Aug. 1, when the law would take effect.

         Mark Abraham, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Task Force, said he believed the task force could pay for enough cameras for agents assigned to shrimp boats.

         The federal government estimated in 2012 and 2014 that as many as 527,500 sea turtles get caught in shrimp nets every year and up to 53,600 of them die. Juvenile Kemp's ridley turtles, the smallest and most endangered of them, live in the shallow Gulf of Mexico waters within miles of the shore, scientists say.

         Shrimpers don't believe the federal figures, and say they never find turtles in their nets.

         Dean Blanchard of Dean Blanchard Seafood on Grand Isle and George Barasich, a member of the state's Shrimp Task Force, both told the committee that turtles are sneaked into the water by environmentalists or federal regulators.

         "Sometimes the feds throw turtles into the water," Blanchard said.

         "They plant them, plant them right before we open the shrimp season," Barasich said. "So we're getting busted."

         – by AP Reporter Janet McConnaughey



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