In the article "Careless fishing causes depletion of marine life" by Sammy Fretwell, reporting on an Oceana study, readers were misled by out-of-context statistics and by omissions.
The report painted a bleak picture of wild-caught shrimp, ignoring the reality of a vastly improved conservation landscape.
The use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) on shrimp nets has played a pivotal role in protecting turtles. Populations are growing; some exponentially. They are measured by nesting females.
Given the time to maturity, it can take 25 years or more for the benefits of turtle conservation to be seen, itself using beach nesting counts. Coincidentally, in November 2013, 24 years after TEDs, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature declared that the Western Atlantic leatherback population status to be of "least concern."
In 2012, Florida, home of the largest U.S. loggerhead populations, had the highest nesting counts in 25 years.
According to Mel Bell, South Carolina's Director of Fishery Management with the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), there were 473 trawler licenses issued last year in South Carolina compared to about 1,500 licenses in 1982.
Given the diminutive fishing effort of today's fleet and the use of TEDs, local fishermen found the news report preposterous.
Mr. Bell asked the obvious, "Where are the bodies?"
The answer is in Oceana and Mr. Fretwell's use of the word "regional."
The government reports that the vast majority of "assumed" turtle mortalities occur in the Gulf of Mexico and some by skimmer trawls (not legal in South Carolina) to a species of turtle called Kemp's Ridley which was growing exponentially and on a trajectory to be delisted in 10 years.
There were 702 nests in 1985, 20,570 in 2011.
In 2012, observer coverage was mandated for the skimmer trawl fisheries.
In January of 2014, NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC-654 reported that there had been no observed turtle mortalities on skimmer trawls.
All shrimp vessels are required to use Bycatch Reduction Devices (BRDs) in addition to TEDs. David Whitaker, a biologist with the Marine Resources Division of the DNR, is involved in BRDs development and analysis. He explained that BRDs allow fin fish to swim free. Dead discards are eaten by natural predators.
Experts agree that there is not much more shrimpers can do but "go away."
But the folks of the Lowcountry do not want that. South Carolina has a rich history of shrimping dating back to the 1880s.
There is every reason to enjoy Frogmore Stew made with wild, local shrimp.
If Oceana were truly concerned about the ecological impact of shrimp consumed in the United States, its focus would be on imported, farm-raised shrimp, and its consequences to both the environment and consumers' health.
Mr. Budi is a regional director of the Blue Water Fishermen's Association and member of the South Carolina Seafood Alliance.
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