All sea turtle species found in U.S. waters and territories are either threatened or endangered. Some of the factors contributing to this status include incidental capture in fisheries and habitat destruction and degradation. In addition to their intrinsic value as contributors to biodiversity, sea turtles have biological and ecological value as they play an important role in marine and terrestrial ecosystems. In many countries sea turtles also have significant cultural importance. The United States works to conserve and protect sea turtles through the use and promotion of turtle excluder devices, membership in the Inter-American Convention for the Protection and Conservation of Sea Turtles, and participation in the Indian Ocean and South-East Asia Memorandum of Understanding on the Conservation and Management of Marine Turtles and their Habitats.
Section 609 Certification
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries), conducted research during the 1970s and 1980s that suggested that sea turtle mortality caused by accidental drowning in mechanical shrimp trawls was a major factor in the decline of sea turtle populations worldwide. Driven by these findings, NOAA Fisheries developed fishing gear technology, referred to as Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs), that both allowed turtles to escape shrimp trawls and shrimpers to retain their catch.
Decades of refinement and thousands of sea tests have produced modern-standard TEDs that are 97 percent effective at excluding turtles and, with only very limited exceptions, all shrimp trawls in the United States must carry TEDs.
U.S. law (Section 609 of P.L. 101-162, or Section 609) provides that wild-caught shrimp or products from wild-caught shrimp harvested with commercial fishing technology that may adversely affect protected sea turtles species may not be imported into the United States unless the Department of State, acting on authority delegated by the President, certifies to Congress that the exporting nation harvests shrimp under conditions that minimize the impact on endangered sea turtle populations.
Please go to the Federal Register and search “Annual Certification of Shrimp-Harvesting Nations” for the current list of certified countries and more information. Overall implementation of Section 609 (codified in 16 U.S.C. § 1537 note) is described in Revised Guidelines for the Implementation of Section 609 of Public Law 101-162 Relating to the Protection of Sea Turtles in Shrimp Trawl Fishing Operations – please see 64 Fed. Reg. 130 at 36946 et seq. (July 8, 1999). Regardless of a nation’s certification status, all shrimp and shrimp product imports into the United States must be accompanied by a completed DS-2031 signed by the exporter.