The Department of State on April 30 certified 38 nations and one economy as meeting certain criteria relating to the protection of sea turtles in the course of shrimp trawl fishing set forth in Section 609 of Public Law 101-162. Section 609 bars the import of shrimp and shrimp products harvested in ways that may adversely affect some sea turtle species. This ban does not apply when the Department of State certifies to Congress that the government of the harvesting nation has taken measures to reduce the incidental taking of sea turtles in its shrimp trawl fisheries, such as through the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs), or that the fishing environment of the harvesting nation does not threaten sea turtles. The Department makes certifications annually on May 1 and bases them in part on the results of verification visits by State Department and National Marine Fisheries Service teams to exporting countries.
Thirteen nations have regulatory regimes requiring the use of TEDs to prevent the accidental drowning of sea turtles in shrimp trawls. They are Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Panama, and Suriname. Twenty-five nations and one economy have shrimp fishing environments that do not pose a danger to sea turtles. Of these, nine nations and one economy harvest shrimp using manual rather than mechanical means, or use other shrimp fishing methods not harmful to sea turtles. They are the Bahamas, China, the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Hong Kong, Jamaica, Oman, Peru, Sri Lanka and Venezuela. The sixteen other nations have shrimp fisheries in cold waters, where the risk of taking sea turtles is negligible. They are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.
A Department of State form DS-2031 signed by the exporter and importer must accompany all shrimp imports into the United States. Non-certified countries may import shrimp to the United States, provided that a government official of the harvesting nation also certifies on the DS-2031 that the shrimp was harvested in a manner not harmful to sea turtles. A substantial amount of aquaculture and artisanal-produced product enters the U.S. stream of commerce in this manner. Users should note that exception 7.A.(2) on the form “Harvested Using TEDs” is currently a valid exception to the prohibition on imports from nations not certified under Public Law 101-162. However, the Department of State must determine in advance that a country wishing to use this exception has in place an enforcement and catch segregation system for making such individual shipment certifications. Presently, only Brazil, Australia and French Guiana have shown that they have a system in place for specific fisheries.
Implementation of Section 609 has provided considerable benefits to endangered sea turtles species. Six of the seven species of marine turtles are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Well-designed and installed TEDs reduce the mortality of sea turtles incidentally caught in shrimp trawl nets by up to 97 percent without appreciable loss of shrimp. The United States Government is currently providing technology and capacity building assistance to a variety of nations in the hope that they can contribute to the recovery of sea turtle species and be certified under Section 609.