TURTLE TUSSLE COMES TO A HEAD

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Most shrimp fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico are ignoring United States regulations to protect sea turtles, reports the US Coast Guard. ``They're just not something we can live with,'' says Tee John Mialjevich, the Louisiana leader of Concerned Shrimpers of America. ``They're robbing us of our living.''

Shrimpers blockaded several ports and waterways last month, protesting a government order to begin putting turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in their nets to free trapped turtles. The devices free shrimp, too, Mr. Mialjevich says, depriving fishermen ``of up to half our income.''

Fearing violence in the wake of the blockades, Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher suspended the TEDs rule. Under court order, he offered shrimpers a choice of using TEDs during a trial period or lifting their nets every 105 minutes to free trapped turtles.

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But so far, only 10 to 15 percent of shrimpers are complying, according to Coast Guard data.

After working nine years for TEDs, environmentalists are upset by the shift in rules. The National Wildlife Federation, the Center for Marine Conservation, and the Environmental Defense Fund all are suing Secretary Mosbacher. In one suit, a federal judge agreed the secretary initially violated the Endangered Species Act, but has allowed the towing option to continue.

The parties expect the dispute to come to a head Sept. 7, when Mosbacher is to issue a ``final'' policy on sea turtle protection.

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