Contact: Chris Smith


Higher than normal concentrations of endangered leatherback sea turtles migrating along the East Coast between Tybee Island, Ga., and Cape Romain, S.C., have triggered increased protections under the Endangered Species Act that affect shrimp fishermen operating in the area.

The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources recently completed aerial surveys that show leatherback sea turtle concentrations greater than 10 turtles per 50 nautical miles off the coast between Tybee Island, Ga., and Cape Romain, S.C. Because of the survey results, and given the leatherback turtles' endangered status under the ESA, the National Marine Fisheries Service is establishing a temporary leatherback conservation zone through a procedure provided in a 1995 sea turtle conservation rule. The rule established all inshore and offshore waters from Cape Canaveral, Fla., to the North Carolina-Virginia border as a leatherback conservation zone and provides for short-term closures of areas in that zone to shrimp fishermen unless they modify their gear.

Consequently, the Fisheries Service will issue a notice within the next week that prohibits fishing by shrimp trawl in statistical zone 32, which runs from approximately Tybee Island, Ga. to Cape Romain, S.C., unless shrimpers' nets are equipped with TEDs that have escape openings large enough to enable leatherback sea turtles to escape. Zone 32 is expected to reopen in two weeks.

Because of their very large size, leatherback sea turtles cannot escape from the standard size TED openings. Unless shrimpers use specially modified TEDs, leatherback turtles captured in their trawls may drown.

The leatherback modification to TEDs entails the enlargement of the escape opening and may be accomplished as follows:

Parker (soft) TED

A horizontal cut extending from the attachment of one side of the deflector panel to the trawl to the attachment of the other side must be made in a single row of meshes across the top of the trawl and measure at least 96 inches in taut width. All trawl webbing above the deflector panel, between the cut and deflector panel edges must be removed. A rectangular flap of nylon webbing not larger than 2 inches stretched mesh may be sewn to the forward edge of the escape opening. The width of the flap must not be larger than the width of the forward edge of the escape opening. The flap must not extend more than 12 inches beyond the rear point of the escape opening. [See 50 CFR 223.207(c)(1)(iv)(B), formerly 50 CFR 227.72(e)(4)(iii)(A)(4)(ii)]

Single-grid hard TED

An exit hole must be cut in the extension forward of the TED frame 26 inches deep on each side, by 83 inches across. Excess webbing is removed by cutting across ½ mesh forward of the TED frame. The exit hole cover is made by cutting a 133-inch by 58-inch piece of webbing no smaller than 1 ½ inch stretch mesh and no larger than 1 5/8 inch stretch mesh. The 133-inch edge of the cover is attached to the forward edge of the opening 83-inch edge with a sewing sequence of 3:2. The cover should overlap 5 inches of the exit hole on each side. The side of the cover is attached, maintaining the 5-inch overlap, to the side of the opening by sewing 28 inches of the cover to 26 inches of the opening forward of the TED frame and by sewing 15 inches of the cover to 15 inches of the extension behind the TED frame. The cover may extend no more than 24 inches behind the posterior edge of the TED frame. The circumference of the exit opening must be 142 inches when stretched. If an accelerator funnel is used with a single-grid hard TED, modified as above, it must also have a minimum
circumference of 142 inches. [See 50 CFR 223.207(a)(7)(ii)(B), formerly 50 CFR 227.72(e)(4)(i)(G)(2)(ii)]

The Fisheries Service is also asking that all shrimpers use TEDs with leatherback modifications or avoid the area between Tybee Island, Ga. and Cape Romain, S.C. prior to the temporary closure. Area shrimp fishermen enjoy one of the highest TED compliance rates in the country.

All six species of sea turtles found in U.S. waters are protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, and leatherback sea turtles are listed as endangered under the ESA. The loggerhead, green and olive ridley sea turtles are listed as threatened, with some exceptions: breeding populations of green sea turtles in Florida and on the Pacific coast of Mexico, and breeding populations of olive ridley sea turtles on the Pacific coast of Mexico are listed as endangered.

The leatherback is the largest sea turtle. Some individuals have attained a shell length of six feet and weights of 1,400 pounds. They are highly migratory and are found in U.S. waters of the Pacific, Gulf of Mexico, and the Eastern seaboard. They feed primarily on jellyfish and may come into shallow waters if there is an abundance of jellyfish nearshore.

Concerned citizens may report fishery violations during weekly business hours of 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Eastern, to its Southeast Region Law Enforcement Division at (727) 570-5344, or after hours and weekends at its National Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964.

This and other Southeast Regional news releases and fishery bulletins are available on the region's Internet home page: or NOAA's Internet home page,

NOAA's Fisheries Service is an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency conducts scientific research and provides services and products to support fisheries management, fisheries development, trade and industry assistance, enforcement, and protected species and habitat conservation programs.