WTO dumps turtle protection

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1998:

WASHINGTON D.C.––The World Trade
Organization ruled on April 6 that the U.S. in
barring the import of shrimp from nations
whose fleets are not required to use turtle
excluder devices on their nets is violating the
General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs.
The WTO held that even under the
international treaty that allows exceptions to
GATT rules to protect the environment, the
U.S. may not force other nations to safeguard
endangered species. The WTO particularly
objected to the part of the U.S. TED law which
requires TED to be used in all shrimping, not
just shrimping done for export to the U.S.
U.S. trade representative Charlene
Barshefsky said the ruling “does not affect our
efforts to protect endangered sea turtles.” As
many as 150,000 sea turtles a year are
drowned in shrimp nets not equipped with
TED. But Barshefsky did not explain how the
U.S. can continue to prevent foreign shrimpers
from competing unfairly with U.S. shrimpers
who by law must use TED.

Hoping to avoid the WTO verdict,
the U.S. has funded the installation of TED on
the nets of shrimpers from more than three
dozen other nations. Shrimp from 17 of those
nations may now enter the U.S.
The WTO ruled in response to a
protest filed jointly by India, Thailand,
Pakistan, and Malaysia. Trade representatives
of those nations’ governments rejoiced, arguing
that the TED requirement is unfair to their
impoverished fishers. But the nations’ conservationists
joined in the dismay of U.S. colleagues––especially
in India. The 1982 Orissa
Marine Fishing Regulation Act prohibits
trawling within three miles of the Orissa coast,
a major sea turtle hatching area, and requires
the use of TED on trawl nets. However, S.K.
Patnaik of the Wildlife Institute of India
protested in a March 1998 letter to the Orissa
government, there is a “complete lack of
enforcement,” which brought the deaths of
more than 10,000 turtles, he said, from
December 1997 through February 1998.
Further, Patnaik charged, of
20,000 turtles estimated to be near the Devi
river mouth, 7,300 had been killed, including
1,000 in just days during mid-March.
Sea turtle protector Manop Kidsarng
issued a similar warning. “An alarming number
of sea turtles have been caught for consumption
and killed by trawls and longliners,”
he told the Bangkok Post. “Villagers have
complained of seeing too many dead turtles on
beaches and of fishers selling turtle eggs to
restaurant operators and also selling dead turtles
to craftsmen who use their shells to make
ornaments,” Manop continued. Manop heads
an organization which collects eggs before
poachers can find them, hatches them, and
then releases the hatchings. About 1,000 turtle
eggs collected in October 1997 produced 90
young turtles for release this spring.
Six of the seven marine turtle
species inhabit southern Asian waters.
Malaysian minister of agriculture Datuk
Sulaiman Daud acknowledged in mid-March
that the four leatherback varieties and olive
ridleys may be extinct in Malaysia within six
years––but endorsed the Malaysian government
claim that the shrimping season and the
turtle migration season do not coincide, and
that therefore Malaysian shrimpers are not
responsible for turtle declines.
In February, Malaysian fisheries
minister Rabihah Mahmood promised at a
release of hawksbill and green sea turtle hatchlings
from the Pantal Kerachut Turtle
Conservation and Hatchery Centre, opened in
1995, that she would introduce legislation to
increase the punishment of turtle egg and
hatchling poachers. The hatchery has recorded
112 turtle landings over the past three years,
resulting in about 3,000 eggs hatched.
“Rabihah said laws to protect turtles
from becoming extinct had already been
enforced in Terengganu, Pahang, Sabah, and
Sarawak,” wrote Derrick Vinesh of the
Malaysian Star.
Sarawak, however, has barely 5%
as many sea turtles now as it had 30 years ago.
The other populations are equally precarious.
In mid-March, Malaysia designated
Pulau Upeh island as a turtle sanctuary and
ecotourism destination. A local resort was
authorized to collect turtle eggs for incubation
at the Pantal Kerachut hatchery.
In the U.S., once highly endangered
Kemp ridley sea turtles appear to be making a
significant comeback since TED use became
mandatory for Gulf Coast shrimpers in 1989.
But the rising population also has attracted
aggressive poaching and revenge killing by
frustrated fishers. In 1997, a record 523 sea
turtles of various kinds were found dead along
the Texas coast, but only 11 were found dead
in March. This year, 56 were found dead in
March––and about a dozen had reportedly
been butchered. Wildlife agencies, conservation
groups, and fishing and shrimping organizations
posted rewards totaling $50,000 for the
arrest and conviction of the culprits.
Red tides probably killed the most
Texas turtles last year. But 74 turtles found in
April 1997 were drowned in nets by shrimpers
who weren’t properly using TED, according
to an Earth Island Institute press release.

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