No turtle protections, no shrimp. That's the word from the U.S. Department of State, which ruled on Thursday to ban imports of wild-caught Mexican shrimp if they are collected in ways that threaten endangered sea turtles. The ban does not include aquacultural shrimp or those caught in shallow waters.

Section 609 of U.S. Public Law 101-162 prohibits the importation of shrimp and shrimp products harvested in ways that may adversely affect sea turtle species. The law requires the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs), which allow sea turtles to escape from trawling nets that would otherwise injure or kill them. The State Department, consulting with the National Marine Fisheries Service, found that "Mexico's TED program no longer met standards established under Section 609."

The ban, which takes effect April 20, affects roughly 50 percent of the shrimp currently imported into the U.S. from Mexico. It represents about 20 percent of Mexico's total shrimp harvest. According to the AFP news service, "Mexico last year exported more than 40,000 metric tons of shrimp to the United States, at an estimated value of $332 million."

The U.S. Endangered Species Act currently protects six of the world's seven species of sea turtles. According to a State Department statement, "Well-designed and installed TEDs reduce the mortality of sea turtles incidentally caught in shrimp trawl nets by up to 97 percent without appreciable loss of shrimp."

April 20 is the end of Mexico's shrimping season, so this ban won't place any immediate hardship on fishermen, and the U.S. has already pledged to work with the Mexican government to improve its turtle-protection plan "within the shortest period of time" possible.

Photo: Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) escaping a net equipped with a turtle excluder device (TED), via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration