Tag Archives: Gulf Oil Spill

Turtle Excluders Pre-Empt Federal Law

Last week I was reading an article in the New York Times about the effects of oil on marine life, particularly the rise of sea turtle deaths in the gulf off the coast of Mississippi.  When the rate of turtle deaths suddenly spiked this summer, everyone’s first thought was to blame it on the gushing BP oil well. Instead, autopsies soon revealed that the turtles did not die from oil poisoning, but from being caught in shrimpers’ nets and drowned.

This conclusion was supported by the additional observation that the sudden spike in sea turtle deaths occurred three days after the opening of the Mississippi shrimping season. Federal law requires shrimpers to have special “turtle excluder” devices on their nets which provide the turtles with a way of escape so they won’t drown. Those who fish by skimming with nets don’t have the excluders but are limited in how long they can skim, such limitation being less than the length of time it would take a turtle caught in the skimming net to drown. Before the shrimping season began, all the operators’ boats and gear were inspected and found to be in order.

Nevertheless, the number of turtle deaths jumped dramatically almost as soon as the season opened; since then, with the waters having been closed to shrimpers on account of the oil spill, the turtle deaths have  fallen off. Which leads experts to the inevitable conclusion that “fisheries interaction” was the cause of the deaths. With the oil spill diverting most of the Coast Guard and other inspectors, the shrimpers most likely took advantage of their freedom and  just disabled their excluders…

And then in the middle of all this interesting talk of turtles and Mississippi, the author switches venues to note that the excluder devices are quite a contentious subject in Louisiana. So contentious, in fact, “that Louisiana law has long forbidden its wildlife and fisheries agents to enforce federal regulations on the devices.”

And that stopped me in my tracks (figuratively, anyway)

Did I read that right??! Louisiana law has long forbidden its W&F agents to enforce federal regulations…? That’s what it said, going on to add that recently Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal vetoed legislation that would lift that ban in light of the  “challenges and issues currently facing our fishermen.”

So, apparently  Louisiana can have a law forbidding state personnel to enforce a federal law and no one says a thing, but Arizona institutes a law which requires its personnel to enforce a federal law and that’s considered pre-emptive, irresponsible and misguided…. Hmmm.

Having noted that, the author returns to turtles and shrimpers, the latter having violated the bans that had closed various waters to fishing because of the spill. Over 20,000 pounds of shrimp were seized by agents in Louisiana and 350 citatons issued to those who dared fish where they shouldn’t. But suddenly the enforcement of federal laws seems more arbitrary and whimsical than ever to me…

If you want to read the NY Times article Animal Autopsies in Gulf Yield a Mystery, it’s HERE.