FYI, Your Shrimp Cocktail Is Probably Served 'With A Side Of Sea Turtle'

<p> Shutterstock </p>
<p> Shutterstock </p>

Tens of thousands of sea turtles are killed by the shrimping industry each year, and now the U.S. government is getting sued for failing to protect them.

A lawsuit filed on Wednesday demands that the government enforce stricter limits on how many sea turtles can be caught and killed in shrimp fishers' nets off the southeastern United States. The case, filed by the ocean conservation group Oceana, claims that some 53,000 sea turtles are hauled out of the ocean each year by shrimp trawlers, many of them endangered and threatened species.

"If people knew that their order of shrimp cocktail came with a side of government-authorized sea turtle, they would be horrified," Oceana lawyer Eric Bilsky said in a statement.

Flickr/Salvatore Barbera

Oceana also wants the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to lower the number of sea turtles that are allowed to be killed in the Gulf of Mexico and the southeast Atlantic by commercial shrimpers, Reuters reports. These fisheries are by far the most destructive to sea turtles, killing more than all other Atlantic fisheries combined.

While massive, the southeastern U.S. sea turtle problem is just the tip of the iceberg. Every year, shrimpers injure some 500,000 turtles. Referred to as bycatch, these animals are often simply thrown back to sink to the bottom of the ocean when they're found.

But there is a solution. Turtle excluder devices (TEDs), contraptions of bars and net, allow turtles and other large animals to escape trawler nets, while keeping valuable shrimp inside. Studies have shown that TEDs have a 97 percent success rate of releasing turtles from nets.

The government still doesn't mandate that all trawlers use TEDs. The new lawsuit hopes to change that - and give all turtles near shrimp fisheries an escape route.