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Sun Jul 27 2014 (Updated 08/10/14) Feds Close Over 25,000 Square Miles of Ocean Off California’s Coast to Destructive Gear
Swordfish Drift Gillnet Fishery Restricted to Protect Loggerhead Sea Turtles In response to pressure from conservation groups, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced an area closure for the swordfish drift gillnet fishery in the Pacific Ocean off California from July 25 through August 31 to prevent entanglements and drownings of endangered loggerhead sea turtles. This year’s El Niño conditions, warmer than normal waters, attract the endangered loggerhead sea turtles to the nutrient-rich waters where the deadly fishery operates.

This is the first time the conservation area has been closed since it went into effect over a decade ago. Today’s action came after the Center for Biological Diversity, Oceana, and Turtle Island Restoration Network called upon NMFS earlier this month in a letter urging them to implement this important closure. “We are glad to see that Pacific loggerhead turtles are now protected in California’s coastal waters,” said Todd Steiner, a biologist and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network. “But enough is enough. It’s time for California to follow the lead of Washington and Oregon, and close this deadly fishery to protect not only sea turtles, but also whales, dolphins and sharks regularly killed by this fishery.”

NMFS is required by law to close the more than 25,000-square-mile Pacific Loggerhead Conservation Area to protect the sea turtles during June, July and August when an El Niño event is occurring or forecasted. The seasonal closure protects loggerhead sea turtles that follow warmer waters off California in search of their preferred prey, pelagic red crabs. Although NMFS implemented the conservation area and drift gillnet prohibition almost two months late, conservation groups commend the agency for taking the proper steps to ensure protection of endangered loggerhead sea turtles as the fishery picks up in mid-August. The swordfish drift gillnet fishery operates from May 1 to January 31, but over 90 percent of the fishing occurs from August 15 through January 31.

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Previous Coverage: Whales and Sea Turtles Win One: No Driftnet Expansion in California

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