LAST CHANCE TO INFLUENCE
FOR THE TEXAS COAST
This summer is a critical time for the future of the shrimp industry and the future of the endangered sea turtles and the whole ecology of the Texas Coast. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is holding public hearings all along the coast on the issues surrounding these concerns.
On May 31 TPWD voted to move forward with the proposed shrimp industry regulations by approving a 90-day public comment and a series of public hearings along the coast to gather citizen input on the proposals. The proposed regulations would establish a permanent year-round no shrimping zone along the southern portion of the Texas coast to protect the critically endangered Kemp's ridley and four other species of sea turtles that migrate and nest along the coast.
Of course, the shrimping industry is opposed to any regulations and due to their pressure TPWD has already modified the original proposed regulations which were designed to protect the future of the shrimp industry itself. Unfortunately for us all, the shrimp industry is faced with more efforts required to catch a diminishing resource. In my view, as well as the views of many others, there are too many boats putting pressure on the resource. The shrimpers blame those who fish in the bays and pollution for the problems of lower supply. They also blame foreign imports which lower the price paid for the shrimp. All of the above mentioned facts are part of the problem. But if all these are part of the problem, the only way to help in the long run is to limit the activity as a whole.
This does not even address the problem of the endangered turtles. The shrimpers say that they are not guilty of the strandings of turtles along the Texas coast, but they cannot get around the numbers of these animals which wash ashore just after and during the season when the shrimpers are active. Last year during July after the shrimp season had opened, 29 turtles were found mutilated on the beaches of this state. During the whole month of June less than ten such findings occurred. There are other ways turtles can die and wash up on the beaches, but when they are found with flippers cut off and heads slashed, this cannot be natural.
The shrimp industry is claiming that there is no need to reduce the current high shrimping effort, and that in spite of the decrease in shrimp catch rates there is no need for additional regulations to prevent the further decline in the shrimp fishery. According to both the TPWD and the National Marine Fisheries Service there has been a 50% decline in shrimp catch rates. The high sea turtle mortality on the Texas coast combined with the 2 billion non-target marine species that are killed as bycatch in shrimp trawls annually and the documented decline in the shrimp catch rates is evidence that there is a serious ecological problem along the coast and that proactive shrimp fishery regulations must be implemented in a timely manner.
A public hearing was held in Rockport on June 27 with about 70 people attending. Twenty two persons spoke. Most were shrimpers and they seem to be hurt and angry people. They maintain that the problems facing the shrimping industry and protection of the endangered turtles are not their fault. They think that pollution of the bays and over development are the primary causes of the decrease of shrimp and various fishes in our waters and that this is also the main cause of the lower numbers of turtles in the waters off Texas and the nesting on the beaches.
However, the shrimpers are faced with some unfortunate statistics. These numbers of turtles which are found on the beaches of this state have a marked rise during the times when the shrimpers are operating off shore in the Gulf. And what is most damaging to the protests by the shrimpers is that most of these animals have been mutilated. Because a lot of the lost flippers have straight cuts showing, shark bites are ruled out.
Placing blame for the problems of the shrimp fishery and of the turtles does not do too much good at this time. Recovery methods seem to be in order. TWPD is considering methods which will restrict times, locations and such things as net sizes that the shrimpers can use. Maybe this will help.
But the fact still remains. Pollution of our bays and esturaies, dams on the rivers which keep fresh water from bringing down the nutrients which the baby shrimp and other baby fishes need to grow, and over development are still major problems. These are harder to fix. So in a real sense, the shrimpers will pay the price. And we must be prepared to pay more for the shrimp we eat
Now for your chance to be heard. The next public hearing will be here in Corpus Christi on July 18 at 7 p.m. at the Natural Resources building on the Texas A&M CC campus. Please MARK YOUR CALENDAR now and plan to be there. TXPD wants your input on what you think can and should be done.
- Pat Suter