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Groups Sue Uncle Sam to Protect Turtles

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Shrimp fishers joined sea turtle advocates in claiming that the State Department puts turtles and fishermen's livelihoods at risk by failing to ensure that foreign commercial shrimp boats comply with the same turtle conservation standards as domestic boats.

Turtle Island Restoration Network and a fishing village in Florida say the State Department never prepared an environmental impact statement on whether its decision allowing 15 countries to export shrimp to the United States jeopardizes seven species of endangered sea turtles.

Young sea turtles often get caught in shrimp trawl nets when they surface for air. So for years the U.S. government has required that domestic shrimp boats be equipped with "turtle excluder devices," a grid of bars and an opening at the top or bottom of shrimp trawl nets.

"When a captured turtle bangs against the bars of the TED, it will be freed through the opening in the net," the complaint states.

Turtle Island claims that the State Department, which is responsible for ensuring that foreign shrimp boats are outfitted with TEDs, has not verified whether countries it certified this year for shrimp exports comply with U.S. turtle conservation efforts.

Shrimp fishers from Mayport Village, Fla., say allowing imports of shrimp from countries that do not meet U.S. standards "places an undue burden on the small family shrimp operations in Mayport Village," since they themselves are committed to using TEDs while harvesting shrimp, the "economic lifeblood" of the town.

For violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, Turtle Island and Mayport Village demand that the State Department be ordered to prepare an environmental review. They are represented in Federal Court by Deborah Sivas with the Environmental Law Clinic of Stanford.

Turtle Island is the name that some Native Americans of the Northwest gave to what is now called North America. Gary Snyder's book of poems by the same name was awarded the 1975 Pulitzer Prize.

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