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Bycatch in Longline Tuna Fisheries: Status and Mitigation Measures

05 May 2015

Dr Shelley Clarke, Technical Coordinator-Sharks and Bycatch of the ABNJ Tuna Project under the FAO-led Common Oceans Program, co-authored a global review of status and mitigation measures for bycatch in longline fisheries for tuna and tuna-like species.

Dealing with longline fisheries, the report's scope is defined taxonomically to comprise only non-tuna and non-tuna-like species.

The history of longline fishing illustrates the role of new technologies, the expansion of fishing grounds, and the operational characteristics of the fleets in shaping today’s fishery. More recently, management regulations, the price of oil, the cost of labour, and market demand have also exerted an influence.

No more than 23 per cent of the tuna in each ocean is longline-caught.

However, there may be up to 7500 tuna longliners globally with almost 60 per cent of them less than 24m in length. Available data suggest that elasmobranch catches have fallen 14 per cent since their peak in 2003.

In longline fisheries, shark catch rates may be determined by bait type, soak time, hook shape, leader length and material, depth at which the hook is fished, and whether special gear is deployed to target sharks. Vulnerability to hooking, and resilience to haulback and handling, vary by species, size, area and fleet operational practices.

Tuna regional fisheries management organisations (t-RFMOs) assess the status of shark populations but data limitations often hinder firm conclusions.

There is little information on the implementation or effectiveness of finning bans and no-retention measures. Mitigation measures have been tested but results vary.

Six of the seven species of sea turtles are threatened with extinction, and while longline fisheries may have less impact than net-based fisheries, significant population level impacts may be occurring in some regions.

The greatest concern is associated with loggerhead–longline interactions in the Atlantic. Circle hooks and using finfish bait have proved effective mitigation techniques either by reducing hooking or hook swallowing. Other methods require further development.

Interactions with pelagic longline fisheries kill 50,000–100,000 seabirds annually. Many of these species, particularly albatrosses, are threatened with extinction.

Recent advances in tracking technologies have facilitated mapping of where interactions are most likely.

The Western and Central Pacific contains more than 45 per cent of the global total albatross and giant petrel breeding distributions. The most promising mitigation methods appear to be night setting, side-setting, line weighting and streamer lines, but further research is needed.

All five t-RFMOs require use of one or more of these methods in areas that overlap albatross distributions. However, compliance data are limited and improved observer coverage is essential.

Marine mammals’ interactions with longline fisheries are detrimental to the fishery but may be positive or negative for the mammals. Although it is often unclear which species are involved, pilot whale interactions in the western Atlantic and false killer whale interactions off Hawaii have triggered national mitigation plans.

No t-RFMO has adopted management measures for marine mammal interactions. Research and testing of mitigation measures continue in order to ameliorate both marine mammal impacts and economic losses to industry from depredation.

At least 650 species of other bony fishes may be caught in association with pelagic longline fisheries, e.g. dolphinfish, opah, oilfish, escolar and ocean sunfish. Some of these stocks are important as local food supplies. However, it is unclear whether these stocks or the ecosystem they help structure is at risk.

More attention should focus on improving fishery statistics and initiating basic monitoring of these stocks’ status.

The diversity of pelagic longline gear designs and fishing methods, the variety of habitats they are deployed in, the thousands of marine species they may interact with, and the different mechanisms and behaviours that govern those interactions provide an array of topics to be addressed in any discussion of bycatch mitigation.

Scientific and technical issues in mitigation including effects across taxa, effects of combinations of measures, economic and safety considerations, underlying biological mechanisms, handling and post-release mortality, and non-fishery impacts must all be addressed.

In addition, it is also necessary to consider issues such as who takes the lead for ensuring mitigation is sufficient for the population as a whole, how to devise effective mitigation implementation strategies, and whether gear modification should be used in concert with more sweeping measures.

Further Reading

You can view the full report and author list by clicking here.

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