Preventing Imperiled Sea Turtles from Drowning in Fishing Nets

There are 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. The exemption is expected to cause the greatest harm to Kemp’s ridley sea turtles — the most critically endangered sea turtle — which swim throughout the Gulf and gather en masse to nest in Mexico and the Texas coast each year.

Case Overview

Conservation groups filed a lawsuit to prevent sea turtles from drowning when they get caught in shrimp trawl nets in the Gulf of Mexico and southeast Atlantic. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The suit challenges a Trump administration rule on key protective gear called turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on shrimp boats. Turtle excluder devices have been required — and successfully used — on many fishing vessels for decades to help sea turtles escape when they get swept into shrimp trawler nets.

In 2019, the Trump administration exempted a significant number of shrimp trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic from the requirement to use turtle excluder devices. The federal rule exempts vessels that are smaller than 40 feet — as well as those that use certain gear types — from using turtle excluder devices.

In the legal filing, the groups ask the court to reverse the Trump administration decision. The new rule ignored the best available science and backtracked on a much stronger proposed rule from the Obama administration. The Trump administration’s rule could more than double the number of sea turtles killed each year. The Fisheries Service estimates the exemption will lead to an estimated 1,300 preventable sea turtle deaths each year.

A green sea turtle rests on a Kona beach.
A green sea turtle rests on a Kona beach. (Jay Bo / Shutterstock)

Case Updates

Photo of a sea turtle swimming in the Florida Keys.
May 6, 2021 Update

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

But the administration must act now.

April 6, 2021 Press Release

Groups Sue to Prevent Imperiled Sea Turtles from Drowning in Fishing Nets

Government must require turtle excluder devices on all shrimp boats

April 6, 2021 document

Petition to Require Sea Turtle Excluders

April 6 2021 petition to require sea turtle excluder devices on vessels