We are working with the folk from the NMFS Pascagoula lab over in Mississippi, but each year around this time they are over in Panama City running TED trials, testing different configurations, different types, and different settings to get things to work just right. Many of the gears they test are designed by fishermen, so that the fishers themselves will buy into using them once they get tested and approved. Our long-time friends from Pascagoula include John Mitchell, who is head of the lab, and Jack Forrester and Nick Hopkins, old fishing hands now working for NMFS focussing on the gear technology aspect of things. Also with us are some folk from the Galveston lab, headed by Ben Higgings, who are in charge of rearing the turtles that are used in the NMFS trials, and of course we are being hosted by the Panama City NMFS lab, headed by Guy Davenport, who have made us all feel very welcome and at home. We are also benefitting from the presence of Marlene Menard from the US Department of State, who will be with us for the work sharing her thoughts and experiences, and the role of the US Dept. of State in the international aspects of the TED outreach and assistance programmes, and the eventual certification process. And to make things even better, our trip coincides with that from a senior officer from the Mexican fisheries agency, Rigoberto Garcia, who is here to learn as much as he can but also to share the experiences of the Mexican TED programme, which is an unexpected bonus for our team, as we grapple with the complexities of getting something like this off the grounds, and sustaining it well into the future.
Day two was about setting the scene: After personal introductions all around, Guy gave a very comprehensive presentation on what the Panama City lab does and how it helps with the TED trials, and welcomed the team to Florida. The Malaysian delegation was then treated to a short history of the long TED development process in the US by John Mitchell, who elaborated on the programme’s hiccups and trials and tribulations, and also its successes. It was good to get an overall historic account of how things had evolved with the programme, and to discuss what made things work. Of particular note, in response to a query form one of our guys, was how communication between NMFS and the fishers was really the key to having a programme up and running. And having Jack in the group, who was a shrimp fisherman when the TED was being introduced, allowed us all to hear the fishermen’s side of the story too. The team also got to see actual video footage of TED trials and even real turtle exclusions, and received packages containing printed and video materials to being back to Malaysia. We then were treated to a great presentation by Rigoberto on the introduction of TEDs, the certification with the US process, but also their decertification in 2010 following poor uptake and compliance by the Mexican fishers. But he also shared with us how the Mexican programme was turned around with a ‘zero tolerance’ policy which ensured Mexico got re-certified just ten months later. Rigoberto also highlighted how the Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) in Mexico was a key ally in the process, as they could track individual boats which were suspected of bypassing regulations. Of course, all this was done in Spanish with me translating, so there were a few chuckles about having an Englishman come from Malaysia to translate for a Mexican guy in the US… But it was all good stuff, and helped highlight how the programme is not without its challenges. Jack then gave us all a very detailed presentation on TED specifications and US regulations – but highlighted that these were US regulations only – and how these came together to provide the backbone of the TED programme, and the guidelines under which it was enforced in the US. At the end of that, I must admit we were all dropping. 12 hours of time difference and a day’s worth of jet lag was taking its toll, and it was time to call it a day. Tomorrow we hope to be offshore if the weather holds, and we’ll keep you updated on progress.