MIAMI - Tens of thousands of endangered sea turtles die every year in the United States when they are inadvertently snared in shrimp nets, an environmental group alleged in a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the government.

The Southeast shrimp trawl industry, the largest in the United States, kills some 53,000 of the turtles each year in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, the advocacy group Oceana said. ‘If people knew that their order of shrimp cocktail came with a side of government-authorized sea turtle they would be horrified,’ said Oceana assistant general counsel Eric Bilsky. The group has pressed for wider use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which are flaps built into nets and big enough for turtles to escape through. ‘Studies have shown TEDs are 97 percent effective at preventing sea turtle deaths when used correctly, yet the Fisheries Service is not enforcing their use, or even requiring TEDs in all vessels that can use them,’ Bilsky added.

In the lawsuit, Oceana alleges that the National Marine Fisheries Service has ‘violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to determine whether shrimp fishing in this region puts sea turtles at risk of extinction, failing to monitor fishing’s impacts on sea turtles and failing to set a limit on how many sea turtles can be caught and killed,’ said a statement.

Named in the lawsuit are Penny Pritzker, secretary of the US Department of Commerce; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is part of NOAA. An NOAA media representative contacted by AFP said she could not discuss ongoing litigation. The lawsuit refers to loggerhead, green, leatherback, hawksbill and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and says that shrimp trawlers in the southeastern United States kill more per year than all other US Atlantic fisheries combined.