Lawmakers Vote To Let State Agents Enforce Sea Turtle Law

BATON ROUGE (AP) — State wildlife officials should soon be able to enforce federal laws that require shrimp nets to include escape hatches for sea turtles.

         With a 99-0 vote Tuesday, the House gave final passage to a bill that will remove Louisiana's enforcement ban, enacted in 1987.

         Supporters of the bill say some big-box retailers have boycotted Louisiana shrimp because they objected to the law and raised concerns about the state's handling of protections for endangered sea turtles.

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         The bill by Rep. Dorothy Sue Hill, D-Dry Creek, heads next to Gov. Bobby Jindal's desk. If Jindal agrees, the law change will take effect Aug. 1.

         The Monterey Bay Aquarium's "Seafood Watch," a program that recommends seafood choices to consumers and is popular with environmentalists, has recommended at least since 2013 that people avoid Louisiana wild-caught shrimp — which are caught mostly in state waters — because of the ban. Some major restaurants and retailers pay attention to the recommendations.

         "This will accomplish the goal for the Louisiana shrimpers to be able to sell their shrimp caught in Louisiana waters," Hill said.

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         Conservation group Oceana applauded the bill's passage.

         "This bill will lead to the Louisiana shrimp industry having access to 13,000 additional restaurants and stores across the country to sell their product. As the industry battles cheap shrimp imports from around the world, it needs every available market to sell its wild catch," Gib Brogan, fisheries campaign manager for Oceana, said in a statement.

         All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are endangered or threatened. In the mid-1980s, when Louisiana's law was passed, the federal rule requiring "turtle excluder devices" in shrimp trawls was new and contentious.

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         Hill's bill will require Department of Wildlife and Fisheries agents to wear body cameras while enforcing laws dealing with the escape hatches, but that requirement won't start until June 1, 2016, and will expire at the end of 2018. Lawmakers stripped a provision that would have made any seafood retailer who boycotts shrimp caught in Louisiana ineligible for state incentive programs.

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