Louisiana shrimpers sue Biden administration over turtle excluder devices

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(The Center Square) – Louisiana shrimpers are suing the Biden administration over a rule that would require them to use turtle excluder devices on their nets closer to shore.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana by the Pelican Institute’s Center for Justice. Litigation is intended to prevent the National Marine Fisheries Service from requiring small trawlers to use turtle excluder devices, which are trap doors attached to nets that allow a trapped turtle to escape.

If snagged by an object in the water, the devices can also allow shrimp to get out as well. Shrimpers say that costs them their livelihoods.

The rule has been in place since 2019, but its implementation was delayed several times due to, among other factors, a lack of turtle excluder devices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Previously, these devices are required on larger shrimping vessels fishing in deeper water, a regulation that went into effect in 1989 and was the subject of litigation. The rule requires them for trawlers less than 40 feet in length.

In 2019, the federal agency did away with the rule that limited the amount of times vessels smaller than 40 feet could trawl for shrimp to replace that regulation with one requiring the turtle excluder devices.

The lawsuit challenges the rule and says it violates the Administrative Procedure Act, the Dormant Commerce Clause and the Major Questions Doctrine. The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent enforcement of the rule and legal fees.

Lawyers for the shrimpers say the federal agency didn’t consider whether sea turtles interact with inshore shrimpers (the complaint says two incidents in 55 years) and also say that their nest sites are thriving.

The lawsuit also says that the cost of implementation will be disastrous to shrimpers, who are contending with increased operating costs and cheap imported shrimp.

One of those shrimpers in the complaint is John Brown of Lafitte. The lawsuit says he’s had to spend large sums to procure and fit custom turtle excluder devices to his nets and he has experienced a loss of shrimp catch due to them.

Shrimpers will have to purchase the turtle excluder devices to put on their nets and studies say the average first year revenue loss for shrimpers could range between $9.4 million and $44 million.

“Today, the Supreme Court will hear a pivotal case on the power of this agency over small businessmen, and this is a perfect time for the Louisiana Shrimp Association to stand up against unelected bureaucrats in Washington,” said Sarah Harbison from the Pelican Center for Justice. “The shrimpers are fighting for their rights and their way of life, and they will not back down.”

“We are not just fighting for ourselves, but for the entire shrimping industry in Louisiana,” said Acy Cooper, the president of the Louisiana Shrimpers Association. “We urge the Biden administration to stop this unfair rule so that we can continue feeding our families and yours with high-quality shrimp.”

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