NOAA 2002-140
Contact: Gordon Helm
NOAA News Releases 2002
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NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) has proposed regulations that will help protect loggerhead turtles by prohibiting drift gillnet fishing for shark and swordfish off the coast of Southern California during the latter half of August and the month of January, if El Niño conditions exist. Officials are seeking public comment on the proposal. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is an agency of the Commerce Department.

On July 11, 2002, NOAA officially announced a mild El Niño event in the tropical Pacific Ocean. Although predicted to be milder than the 1997- 98 event, it could cause the waters off Southern California to be warmer than normal. Loggerhead turtles tend to follow their prey into the warmer currents and may venture further north into areas where they could become entangled in nets set for drift gillnet fishing of shark and swordfish.

To reduce the potential of accidentally entangling and killing loggerheads, NOAA Fisheries is proposing that these regulations be ready to implement a closure of fishing for an area off the coast of Southern California from Point Conception to the Mexican border during the latter half of August and the month of January during El Niño events. If finalized, these rules will only be implemented if the El Niño in the tropical Pacific Ocean affects the waters off Southern California.

Historically, loggerhead mortality during an El Niño event has been concentrated in the months of January and August. NOAA Fisheries’ observer data from July 1990 through January 2001 has recorded a total of 18 entangled loggerheads in the proposed closed area; all during an El Niño event.

“We don’t want to restrict fishing unless it’s absolutely necessary, “ stated Rod McInnis, acting southwest regional administrator, “but we also want to be able to have the ability to immediately protect loggerheads should they move into an area where they risk entanglement.”

Loggerhead turtles are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Congress passed the ESA in 1973 to conserve the various species of fish or wildlife and plants facing extinction. An “endangered” species is any species that is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range. A “threatened” species is any species that is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range. Time and area closures will result in a reduction in the entanglement of loggerhead turtles by the drift gillnet fishery and are necessary for the fishery to be in compliance with the ESA.

Comments will be accepted on this proposal through October 21, 2002. The public can send comments to Tim Price, National Marine Fisheries Service, Protected Resources Division, 501 West Ocean Boulevard, Suite 4200, Long Beach, CA 90802-4213, or by fax (562) 980-4027. Comments transmitted via e-mail or the Internet will not be accepted.

The proposed rule and related documents are located at:

NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA fisheries) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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