EU demand for seafood must stop contributing to depletion of sea turtles

Posted on 30 November 2022

At a time when the European Union (EU) is striving to restore biodiversity, ensure sustainable food systems and lead the way towards reducing the impact of fisheries on the marine environment, it is overdue for the EU to ensure that imported tropical shrimp are not contributing to the depletion of sea turtle populations.
Today, 6 out of the 7 existing species of sea turtles are listed as Vulnerable, Endangered or Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and their populations continue to decrease; the seventh species is listed as data deficient. All are listed as most endangered (Appendix I) by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). 

Bycatch, alongside illegal trade, is considered the principal threat to their survival, with tens of thousands of sea turtles captured in fishing nets each year. Tropical shrimp trawls are particularly problematic fisheries, as shrimps and turtles often share the same habitats and therefore end up in the same nets.

The bycatch of sea turtles, however, can be greatly reduced by using a Turtle Excluder Device (TED). A TED is a grid which diverts sea turtles, as well as other large marine fauna, out of a trawl net, while letting the shrimp in. In tropical shrimp trawls, TEDs have proven both particularly effective to reduce turtle bycatch and profitable due to,among other factors, better quality products (as shrimp are not squeezed or crushed by larger species like turtles), reduced fuel costs and less damage to nets (which are structurally designed for small catches like shrimp).

The EU, the largest importer of shrimp in the world, does not yet require the use of TEDs in shrimp trawl fisheries whose products are imported to the EU, thereby providing an alternative market for countries that do not use TEDs. By supporting the economic viability of these unsustainable fisheries, the EU thus contributes to the bycatch of tens of thousands of sea turtles a year.

WWF is calling on the European Commission to submit a legislative proposal for an import regulation requiring the use of TEDs by 2026, to support exporting countries in the implementation of their respective TED regulations and to ban imports from those failing to adequately implement TED regulations. In this report, WWF details why and how the EU should adopt and implement this legislation without delay.
Cover page of WWF report on the need for a European Union import regulation to reduce marine turtle bycatch in shrimp fisheries