By Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter

Friday, July 11, 2014

Environmental groups yesterday filed suit over the federal government’s
failure to seasonally close a California fishery in order to protected
endangered loggerhead sea turtles.

At issue is a provision in the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation
and Management Act that says the National Marine Fisheries Service must
enact a “Pacific loggerhead conservation area” along the Southern
California coast in the event of a forecasted or occurring El Niño.
That would effectively close the California drift gillnet fishery —
which targets sharks and swordfish but catches other species in its
nets, including the loggerhead — from June 1 through Aug. 31.

“Over the past decade the Fisheries Service has repeatedly found that
the only way the California drift gillnet fishery could continue to
lawfully operate without jeopardizing the continued existence of the
loggerhead sea turtle was to impose a seasonal closure of southern
portions of the fishery during El Niño years when the species was at
most risk of entanglement and death from the fishery,” said the
lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of

But despite this year’s forecasts of an El Niño, a warming of the
equatorial Pacific Ocean, NMFS has failed to institute the closure,
resulting in the suit. Named as the defendants are Commerce Secretary
Penny Pritzker and NMFS Assistant Administrator Eileen Sobeck.

The Center for Biological Diversity and the Turtle Island Restoration
Network contend that they have voiced their concerns to NMFS through
phones calls, email and a formal letter, but the agency has yet to
comply with the legal mandate.

The groups have asked that the court declare NMFS violated the
Magnuson-Stevens Act and order the agency to close the designated area
by publishing a notice in the Federal Register.

The agency declined to comment on the pending litigation.

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