News Column

UNO Awarded $200,000 Grant from National Fish and Wildlife Foundation

June 9, 2014



NEW ORLEANS, June 9 -- The University of New Orleans issued the following news release:

The University of New Orleans has been awarded an 18-month $200,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to improve a device used aboard shrimp boats intended to protect sea turtles.

In collaboration with NOAA Fisheries, Coastal Communities Consulting, the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, and the Louisiana commercial shrimp industry, UNO researchers will work on enhancing the design, testing and implementation of the turtle excluder device on skimmer trawl vessels. The turtle excluder device is a specialized device that allows a captured sea turtle to escape when caught in a net.

The goal of the project is to refine the device so that it satisfies both the shrimping community and conservationists, as well as provide better education to local skimmer trawl fishermen about the proper way to install and use the device.

"The Nekton Research Laboratory at UNO is proud to help lead this public-private initiative that will utilize our research expertise to refine a technology and outreach process that are critical to both the economy and the culture of Southeast Louisiana," said Martin O'Connell, associate professor of earth and environmental sciences and director of the Nekton Research Laboratory.

Since 1978, all sea turtles in U.S. coastal waters have been classified as either threatened or endangered. The primary cause of sea turtle mortality was incidental capture of sea turtles by shrimp trawls in the Southeast U.S., according to research from the National Research Council. The turtle excluder device was developed to prevent closure of fisheries and recover sea turtle populations.

The purpose of the project is to convince local skimmer trawl fishermen that using the newly designed turtle excluder devices will prevent them from catching sea turtles as well as unwanted non-shrimp species, which benefits the shrimpers, O'Connell said.

The outreach portion of the project will involve trained UNO students teaching local skimmer trawl fishermen how to construct, install and operate the new turtle excluder devices.

"This project proactively addresses conservation challenges through collaborative research with the fishing industry, while simultaneously providing the fisheries sector with the skills needed to both innovate and collaborate in a more sustainable manner with university and government researchers," said Jeff Gearhart, fisheries biologist with NOAA Fisheries in Pascagoula, Miss.

The National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration'sNational Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) is the lead federal agency responsible for the stewardship of the nation's offshore living marine resources and their habitat.

"This collaborative effort is a great example of how government and commercial fishermen can work together to improve the industry and reduce the impacts of fishing on other species," said Sandy Nguyen, executive director of Coastal Communities Consulting.

Coastal Communities Consulting, based in Gretna, La., is a nonprofit organization that provides technical assistance and disaster recovery services to rural entrepreneurs and their families.

The project was initiated by the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, which is an independent voice for small business within the federal government.

"This collaboration shows how the SBA Office of Advocacy can work with other federal agencies and communities to not only improve regulations for small businesses, but also solve problems for the local small business community," said Winslow Sargeant, chief counsel for the SBA Office of Advocacy.

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