Skip to main content

Earthjustice is a nonprofit in the business of building a better future. We’re here because the earth needs a good lawyer.

President Biden Has a Chance to Prevent the Extinction of Sea Turtles

They thrived in our oceans for over 100 million years, but in a matter of decades, human activities have sent sea turtles into severe decline. The federal government should be doing more.

Earthjustice has filed a lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to uphold Endangered Species Act protections for sea turtles.

The problem:

  • Shrimp trawling in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic is harming sea turtle populations. Up to three pounds of non-target marine life (collectively called “bycatch”) are unintentionally caught for every pound of shrimp.
  • As a result, thousands of sea turtles drown in fishing nets along our coasts each year.
  • There are now only seven species of sea turtles in the world, and all sea turtles found in U.S. waters are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

Why we’re suing the Fisheries Service:

Diagram showing how turtle excluder devices work in commercial fishing nets.
NOAA Fisheries
  • With a 2019 rule, the Fisheries Service under Trump backtracked on a stronger Obama-era proposal by exempting a significant number of shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic from having to use turtle excluder devices.
  • Turtle excluder devices are a proven way to save sea turtles. The devices have been required on fishing vessels for decades to help sea turtles escape when caught in shrimp trawler nets.
  • Our lawsuit demonstrates that the Fisheries Service’s weakened rule violates the Endangered Species Act, Administrative Procedure Act, and National Environmental Policy Act.

About our case:

  • The Fisheries Service ignored scientific evidence that reducing fishery-caused sea turtle deaths is vital to recovering imperiled turtle species and provided no rational basis for its exemptions.
  • The new rule implemented in 2019 made changes without public input, violating federal law, and the agency’s environmental analysis failed to assess the impact the exemption would have on sea turtle populations.
  • The agency itself admits that the exemption will lead to an estimated 1,300 preventable sea turtle deaths each year, more than doubling the number of sea turtles killed annually.

Our goal:

Earthjustice’s lawsuit aims to force regulators to protect endangered sea turtles by requiring all shrimp trawlers to use life-saving turtle excluder devices in their nets. This case is part of our larger effort to restore ocean ecosystems and safeguard marine life.

Photo of a sea turtle swimming in the Florida Keys.

A sea turtle swims in the Florida Keys. While the species is protected under the Endangered Species Act, it remains at risk of extinction due to harmful fishing practices.

Getty Images