GULFPORT, Miss. - Federal fisheries officials are investigating whether aggressive shrimpers are causing the deaths of endangered sea turtles that have been washing up on Gulf Coast beaches with no signs of oil, an official said Wednesday.
Investigators will look at whether some shrimp boats taking part in an emergency shrimping season ahead of the Gulf oil spill removed devices from their nets that are intended to allow turtles to escape, said Sheryan Epperly, sea turtle team leader for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
Wildlife officials say at least 35 endangered sea turtles have washed up on Gulf coast beaches, but it's not clear what's killing them. Necropsies have shown no signs of oil.
The Washington, D.C.-based conservation group Oceana has said officials need to determine what is killing the turtles quickly.
Some experts have speculated the turtles may have eaten fish contaminated by the oil spill. Shrimping has long been blamed for sea turtle deaths.
Shrimpers are required to install grid-like devices in their nets that are designed to allow turtles to escape. Shrimpers caught without the turtle excluder devices - or TEDs - may be fined thousands of dollars and have their catch seized by federal regulators.
Still, some are reluctant to invest $800 on the TEDs or are angry over the extra work they create aboard the shrimp boats, so they gamble they won't be caught.