NOAA 2003-R101
Contact: Jim Milbury
NOAA News Releases 2003
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NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA Fisheries) issued an interim final rule to protect loggerhead sea turtles that follow warmer El Niño currents into drift gillnet fishing areas off Southern California. Officials are seeking public comment on the interim measures before issuing a final rule. 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 along the equator. Although predicted to be milder than the 1997-98 event, it could cause the waters in the eastern Pacific to be warmer than normal. On December 12, 2002, NOAA issued an updated El Niño report which indicated that sea surface temperatures increased in equatorial waters. However, sea surface temperatures off southern California are not expected to attain an El Niño condition until early Spring of 2003. Thus, NOAA Fisheries does not anticipate that loggerheads will move into the waters off southern California during January 2003 and become entangled in drift gill nets set for shark and swordfish.

“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.”

Historically, loggerhead entanglement during an El Niño event has been concentrated in the months of January and August. To reduce the potential of accidentally entangling and potentially killing loggerheads, NOAA Fisheries is issuing these regulations to provide a mechanism to close fishing 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 that affect the waters off Southern California.

NOAA Fisheries’ observers aboard fishing vessels from July 1990 through November 2002 recorded a total of 17 entangled loggerheads in the closed area during an El Niño event. One loggerhead was found in the same area during a non-El Niño event. In addition, NOAA Fisheries outfitted five loggerheads off Baja California with satellite transmitters to obtain information on the turtle’s movement and dive patterns. This information may increase the ability to predict where and when loggerheads are present based on sea surface temperatures and current patterns.

Criteria for determining if an El Niño is affecting conditions off Southern California will be gathered from published sea surface temperatures. When an El Niño causes water temperatures off Southern California to be higher than normal for two months preceding the months of January or August, NOAA Fisheries will publish a notice describing the area closure for the fishery.

Loggerheads 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 loggerheads by the drift gillnet fishery and are necessary for the conservation and recovery of this species.

Comments will be accepted on this interim final rule through February 7, 2003. The public is invited to 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.

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.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.

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