Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Rebound: A Short History

By Ryan Ono, Gulf Oceans Program Research and Outreach Associate

Until half a century ago, tens of thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles would surge onto Mexican beaches in a few large nesting events to lay their eggs. (One was estimated having up to 40,000 turtles!)

But, at the turn of the 20th century turtle meat and eggs became popular delicacies, causing large numbers of turtles to be harvested at sea and many eggs to be gathered from beaches. Additionally in the 1940s and 1950s, numerous sea turtles were caught in the nets of the rapidly expanding shrimp fishery.

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These pressures caused the Kemp’s ridley population to crash – almost to the point of extinction, when nesting events would number only one or two thousand turtles.

In the 1960s and 1970s, joint U.S.-Mexican efforts to revive turtle populations re-established a secondary nesting site in the U.S. to protect the eggs from poaching and damage caused by humans.  Hatchery and “head-start” programs were also started. The head-start program raised turtles for a few years until they were big enough to be released into the wild – about the size of a dinner plate.

In the 1990s, EDF’s Michael Bean and Pam Baker helped the recovery effort by fighting for gear modifications to all shrimping boats called turtle excluder devices, or “TEDs,” which reduced the number of turtles caught.  They also worked for shrimping closures off the Texas coast during nesting seasons.

As recently as eight years ago the number of endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests found on Texas shores numbered fewer than ten.  Since 2004 however, there have been consecutive record breaking years and in 2008 a total of 195 Kemp’s Ridley turtle nests were found. 

This year’s total stands currently at 154 nests and is on track to surpass last year’s number, with two months of the season left to go.  Check back at the end of the summer for an update! 

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Talkin’ Catch Shares on the Texas Coast

By Marcie Jones, Gulf of Mexico Program Coordinator, Environmental Defense Fund Oceans Program

I recently attended Corpus Christi’s 10th Annual Earth Day – Bay Day Festival on behalf of EDF’s Gulf of Mexico Oceans program.  I’d heard about the festival since I started at EDF last year, so I was really excited to share our catch share message with the 10,000+ attendees.

This annual event is hosted by The Coastal Bend Bays Foundation so that locals can learn about bays, estuaries, wetlands, native plants and animals, recycling and general conservation and environmental issues. 

Our booth was full of information, facts and photos that showcased the problems with fisheries, explained why people should care, and described how catch shares can help. I met many interesting people, from age 5 to 85, asking about our work, commenting on the booth photos and picking up information such as our Oceans of Abundance report.

By the end of the day, I’d talked with hundreds about our work and had lots of ideas to improve the booth for next year.

Cool tidbit: At the beginning of the festival the Gulf Coast Indian Confederation blessed the grounds with a drum circle ceremony.

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Recovering from Hurricane Ike in the Gulf of Mexico

Fishermen under IFQs were able to keep their businesses going after Hurricane Ike.Eight months after Hurricane Ike slammed Texas’ largest fishing community, Galveston is steadily recovering from the storm. Red snapper fishermen under IFQ management kept their businesses going because they could fish later in the year and lease quota to others when they couldn’t fish themselves. Read more.

Destroyed Kemp’s ridley turtle habitat
Endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have shown a strong come-back in recent years.  Unfortunately, Hurricane Ike damaged and piled debris on their South Padre Island nesting beaches. Volunteers worked to restore and clean up the sites before the turtles’ nesting season, which began last month. Experts are hopeful that these efforts will help Kemp’s ridleys keep recovering. Read more.

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New Opportunity to Improve Gulf of Mexico Fishing

New federal rules that require Federal regulators recently finalized rules to help regional fishery councils comply with new U.S. fisheries laws to end and prevent overfishing with “annual catch limits” and “accountability measures.” This means that tougher limits on fishing are coming, and Gulf fishery managers can take this opportunity to save fisheries and the multi-billion dollars in economic benefits they provide the region. Here’s what can be done:

Catch shares should be the preferred accountability measure for reef fisheries. Reef fish are popular commercial and sport fish and some species are in trouble. Catch shares (like IFQs) help fishermen comply with catch limits, while enabling them to fish year-round, reduce waste, and improve business practices. Catch shares are already working for commercial red snapper, and other reef species should be added quickly. They should also be expanded to for-hire charter and party boats. For private anglers, fish harvest tags can improve accountability and extend fishing seasons.

Each sector should have its own catch limit and accountability measures. Sectors include the commercial, for-hire, private angler, and shrimp trawl (for fish accidentally killed in shrimp nets). Each should be alotted a defined portion of the catch and be held responsible for accurately counting fish and complying with its limit.

The Gulf Council is getting started on a “scoping document” to explore preliminary ideas at the June meeting in Tampa. Public meetings will be held later in the summer. Now is the time to let the Council know that catch shares and sector accountability are essential for healthy and prosperous Gulf fisheries.

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Gulf Council Considers Comprehensive Reef Fish IFQs

All commercial reef fish species may soon be included in a comprehensive reef fish IFQ program.The Gulf Council recently voted to consider adding all reef fish to the successful IFQ program already working for red snapper and coming on-line for grouper and tilefish in January. When implemented, it will be one of the largest and most modern and effective management systems in the U.S.

With comprehensive reef fish IFQs, progress to end overfishing will continue and potential problems, such as fishing effort shifting to less regulated species, will be prevented. It will also reduce wasted fish.

The remaining reef fish include vermilion snapper, greater amberjack, gray triggerfish, yellowtail snapper and dozens more. At its June meeting, the Council is expected to refine the fishery management plan process and timelines for getting started.

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Red Snapper IFQ Continues Success in 2nd Year

Gulf red snapper fisherman measuring his fishJanuary marked the second anniversary of the Gulf’s red snapper IFQ program.  Fortunately, fishermen, regulators and environmentalists continue to report good news compared to the decade the fishery suffered under destructive derby management (also known as a “race” for the limited number of snapper that fishermen were allowed to catch each year).

Year-round fish supplies and excellent quality mean that dockside prices climbed and have remained steady at least 25% higher than under the derby.  Fishermen are allowed to keep most of the fish they catch, so the number of dead discarded fish (also known as bycatch) has been significantly cut.  And, like the previous year, the annual catch was about three percent under its limit. 

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