- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

GRETNA, La. (AP) - Some inshore shrimpers say that if the federal government requires turtle escape hatches in their nets, it should reimburse them for lost catch. Others say they trawl in water too shallow for “turtle excluder devices” to work.

About 80 shrimpers, most of them Vietnamese, gathered Tuesday to hear marine biologist Michael Barnette explain a proposal to require the devices on smaller inshore nets, including those called skimmer nets.

They’re already required in the long mesh funnels known as “otter trawls” and generally used by offshore shrimp boats.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that should be expanded to smaller inshore nets because many small Kemp’s-ridley turtles - the world’s most endangered species of sea turtles - swim inshore to feed after hatching in Mexico, then living for a while in floating mats of sargassum seaweed.

“We know that in the past five years there have been a lot more sea turtles out there, and potentially more interaction with skimmer-net fisheries,” he said.

Barnette’s remarks and the shrimpers’ comments were translated by Sandy Nguyen, executive director of Coastal Communities Consulting, a nonprofit organization created to help southeast Louisiana commercial fishermen and rural entrepreneurs.

Barnette said the proposed new turtle excluder devices, often called “TEDs,” would be sets of bars 32 inches high, set 3 inches apart across a 32-inch span. They could be made from aluminum, “so it’s not that heavy,” he said.

Barnette said they had been tested in many different depths of water, and catch losses ranged from about 3 to 10 percent.

After one man spoke, Nguyen told Barnette, “Where he fishes, there’s sometimes one-half foot of water.”

Another wanted to know whether the government would cover the cost. Shrimpers would have to foot the bill, but NOAA was talking to environmental groups in hopes of getting them to defray some of the costs, Barnette said.

“Mr. Pham is worried about … loss of shrimp. Would there be mitigation measures regarding loss of shrimp? If not, he’s proposing that,” Nguyen said after a third man spoke.

Barnette took note of the request for mitigation.

The meeting was the second of six that NOAA is holding this week and next to get public comment. A meeting was held Monday in Larose and Tuesday evening in Belle Chasse.

Others are Wednesday in Biloxi, Mississippi; Thursday in Bayou La Batre, Alabama, and Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Morehead City, North Carolina.

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