Suit seeks to reverse Trump changes to sea turtle protection


NEW ORLEANS — Conservation groups sued on Tuesday to reverse changes made under former President Donald Trump to rules protecting sea turtles, even though federal regulators said a week ago that they were reconsidering some of those changes.

The groups hope President Joe Biden’s administration will change the rules, but the possible revisions outlined recently may not go far enough, said Jaclyn Lopez of the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the three groups.

“We’re hopeful they will do something and do something soon, but we’re not going to sit back and wait,” she said. “This is decades in the making and our patience has run out.”

“We are aware of this filing and are reviewing it,” Allison Garrett, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries service, said in an email.

The current rule would hurt five endangered and threatened sea turtle species, especially Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest and most endangered, the groups’ news release said. Kemp’s ridleys swim throughout the Gulf and along the Atlantic Coast to New England, nesting in Mexico and along the Texas coast.

NOAA Fisheries said last week that it was delaying implementation of the rules from April 1 to Aug. 1 and that it was reconsidering some of them.

Lopez said her group, Defenders of Wildlife and Turtle Island Restoration Network want NOAA Fisheries to return to rules it proposed in 2016. Those would require escape hatches for sea turtles in three kinds of inshore shrimp trawls, pulled by boats of all sizes.

The Trump administration required them only on the most common sort, called skimmer nets, and only on those pulled by boats at least 40 feet (12 meters) long.

Earthjustice filed the suit in federal court in the District of Columbia.

“We don’t feel it’ll be too heavy a lift,” since the nets were thoroughly evaluated before the 2016 proposal, Lopez said.

“They’ve already done the legwork. We’re hopeful it has the political will this time,” she said.

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