In July 1997, NMFS approved the amendment requiring BRDs, which function like one way valves allowing fish to escape the nets. NMFS's own documents affirm that finfish bycatch outweighs shrimp in trawler nets by a ratio of at least 4.2 to 1. Of particular concern is the bycatch of juvenile red snapper, an important commercial and recreational species whose population is already overfished.
Shrimp trawlers kill approximately 80% of the juvenile snapper in a given year. Even if commercial harvest of red snapper stopped entirely, bycatch is so extreme that it would still prevent the population from recovering.
The bycatch amendment aims to reduce bycatch of red snapper by 44%, in order to effect its recovery in the Gulf. At a low cost to the shrimp industry, BRD's would save the imperiled red snapper fishery.
NMFS has dragged its feet on implementation of the rule, overstepping by over 5 1/2 months the October deadline for action.
"With 100 million pounds of juvenile fish being killed in shrimp nets every year, the Federal Government's neglect of this crucial issue is inexcusable," said David Guest, an attorney with Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.