TEDs for Terrapins

Turtle Exclusion Devices Come to the Shores of Fire Island

By Anika LanserFor years, environmental activists and conservationists have been concerned about the bycatch (the unwanted or non-target part of the catch taken by fishermen) of turtles and other marine creatures in commercial fishing and crab traps. For many, the process of changing legislation and increasing regulation is a long road; one that often does not end with significant changes. However, on May 23 conservationists experienced a huge victory as the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation required the use of Turtle Exclusion Devices (TEDs) that work to minimize the bycatch of diamondback terrapins in crab traps. The work is part of a years’ long endeavor on the part of Carl LoBue, The Nature Conservancy’s New York Ocean Programs director and senior marine scientist; and John Turner, Seatuck Environmental Association’s conservation policy advocate.In order to pass the legislation requiring TEDs, the activists first worked to overturn the New York Wildlife Permit that allowed for the directed harvest of terrapins. When LoBue first attempted to pursue legislation requiring the use of TEDs in 1999, crabbers were quick to dissuade others from taking action by noting that the state allowed the catching and selling of diamondback terrapins. When LoBue began the work of passing the legislation again in 2014, he first worked with herpetologists and reptile experts like Dr. Russell Burke of Hofstra University to help him advocate for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to revoke the wildlife permit.Working with local groups like the Seatuck Environmental Association, Save the Great South Bay, Hofstra University, and The Nature Conservancy, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has begun distributing turtle exclusion devices that work in the traps frequently used to catch blue crabs in the coastal areas of New York. LoBue highlighted the importance of working with local crabbers and reaching comprises about the devises and potential locations for their implementation in order to avoid the public opposition from crabbers killing the legislation. After plastic devices and metal devices were purchased by both Seatuck Environmental Association and The Nature Conservancy, TEDs are currently available at no cost to crabbers.The use of TEDs is required in both commercial and recreational traps that are non-collapsible. Additionally, the use of the traps is limited to specific areas where the trapping of blue crabs is more widespread, predominantly streams and harbors along the Long Island Sound and the Great South Bay. It is still permissible to use traps without the exclusion devices in open bay areas.Founder and President of Save the Great South Bay Marshall Brown highlighted the importance of protecting the terrapins for the larger goal of protecting marine ecosystems. He argued, “Terrapins are essential to the health of the Great South Bay. Without terrapins, the periwinkle snail population would explode. These snails eat marsh grass. What if instead of marsh grass we had mud flats? Nature needs balance. Ecosystems need to be diverse and complex.”The devices were manufactured to allow terrapin turtles to escape the traps while not hindering the trapping of blue crabs. Because terrapins breathe air, without TEDs they are attracted to the bait within the trap and drown, unable to return to the surface. The devices were developed by The Nature Conservancy in conjunction with a crabber working in the Great South Bay who tested a number of different trap designs.Brown noted, “We believe that protecting the terrapins will lead to healthier marshes. Perhaps with a rebounding population, we could look to introducing terrapins where their populations have already been decimated. That would have to go hand in hand, however, with improved water quality and habitat restoration.”After four long years of work from LoBue, Turner and other local organizations, the diamondback terrapins are safer from the perils of the blue crab traps.