WASHINGTON — Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher, ordered by a judge to protect endangered sea turtles, told shrimp fishermen Monday that they must inspect their nets every 105 minutes for trapped turtles.
However, environmentalists said that that interval is too long and promised to oppose Mosbacher in court.
The Commerce Department said that the trawling time limitations, which take effect today and will be in force at least through Sept. 7, will protect the Kemp's ridley turtle better than turtle excluder devices, which shrimp fishermen strongly oppose.
The department said the turtles can survive submerged for 90 minutes. Environmentalists say the department's own studies show that one in four sea turtles will drown during a tow time of 105 minutes.
The new regulation established a 105-minute cycle for shrimpers--7 1/2 minutes to get their nets in the water, 90 minutes to trawl and 7 1/2 minutes to retrieve the nets.
"We don't think the secretary's proposed regulations comply with the law, and we're going to challenge it in court," National Wildlife Federation spokesman Charlie Miller said.
U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, who last week ordered Mosbacher to begin protecting sea turtles from drowning in shrimpers' nets by Monday--after the secretary had suspended enforcement of the excluder device law on July 24 because of massive shrimper protests--had not ruled on the Commerce plan by late in the day.