US encourages shrimp trawler certification

More countries should consider obtaining certification for exporting shrimp harvested by their trawl fleets to the United States, a State Department official says.

By getting certified they not only would move to protect endangered and threatened sea turtles but also would improve the lives of their people, James Story, of the department’s marine conservation office, says.

Under U.S. law, only countries certified by the State Department that their fishing fleets pose no threat to turtles are allowed to export wild-harvested shrimp to the United States. Uncertified countries remain eligible to export farm-raised shrimp to the U.S. market.

Story said he hopes to add later this year two sub-Saharan countries, Mozambique and Madagascar, as well as Papua New Guinea and French Guiana, to the list of certified countries.

About 25 countries are certified either because their fleets trawl only in cold waters where turtles are rarely found or the fleets use manual, instead of mechanical, methods of harvesting that pose no threat to turtles.

Another 13 countries where the fleets harvest in warm waters are certified because the boats are required to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs), the same condition imposed on U.S. shrimpers. A TED is basically a grid with an opening placed in the neck of a shrimp trawl that allows turtles to escape.

Those 13 countries are Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Panama, Suriname and Venezuela — all but one in the Western Hemisphere.

In a May 4 interview, Story said that other warm-water fishing countries in Africa and Asia would benefit from getting State Department certification for their shrimp trawl operations.

He described how receptive fishermen in Mozambique’s shrimp trawl fleet were when he and officials from the U.S. Commerce Department and the World Wildlife Fund introduced them to TEDs.

“We had very good results from the fishermen,” Story said. “The fishermen actually lobbied the government … to make it mandatory to use TEDs in the shrimp trawl industry in Mozambique.”

The Mozambique government, in fact, did make use of TEDs mandatory as of January 1, phasing in enforcement over six months, he said. Later this year he hopes to return to Mozambique for a certification visit, he said. Certification would open the U.S. market to Mozambique shrimp.

“Obviously, this would be not only an environmental bonus to be able to protect sea turtles but a huge economic impact for one of the poorest economies in the world,” Story said.

He said the government of Madagascar has told him it made TEDs use mandatory as of March with a similar phase-in period, possibly making that country eligible for certification later this year.

In Papua New Guinea and the French territory of French Guiana, the U.S. State and Commerce departments now are working to introduce TEDs to the shrimp trawl fleets, he said. The French government is planning sea trials for TEDs, he added.

France is part of the European Union, which is the major foreign market for shrimp from off the African coast and does not require use of TEDs. Japan, a major foreign market for shrimp from elsewhere in Asia, also does not require TEDs.

Some of the countries lacking certification that could otherwise add the United States to their market opportunities by getting State Department certification are in Africa and Asia, including Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and Thailand.

Small shrimp pass through the TED grid’s 81-by-81-centimeter bars into the back of the net, while larger animals — turtles, sharks, rays — as well as large debris hit the bars and are ejected through the opening.

“We’re confident that any shrimp loss is minimal,” Story said. “The economic value of the shrimp is being increased because it’s not being crushed in the tail bag by rocks and sticks and branches, so more of your product is export quality.”