By Heather Welch, Elliott Hazen, and Dana Briscoe
In the early 2000s, the dataset from (US) federal fisheries observers for California’s drift gillnet fishery was examined and a concerning pattern emerged. During warm-water years, endangered juvenile loggerhead turtles were coming closer to shore in southern California, which occasionally resulted in bycatch in drift gillnets. These were relatively rare events, which meant there was not enough distribution data to understand the underlying mechanisms, but the relationship between turtles and temperature was strong enough to warrant action. In 2003, NOAA Fisheries (the US federal fisheries agency) established the Loggerhead Conservation Area – a seasonal fisheries closure off southern California that is enacted for months between June and August when El Niño conditions are declared or forecasted to occur, or simply when sea surface temperatures are warmer than normal.