Identification, safe handling and release

Where to find identification & safe handling and release guides in the BMIS

In the References database, use the 'Collection' filter to select:

  1. 'Guides - Species ID' or 
  2. 'Guides - Safe Handling & Release', then
  3. choose from the drop-down list in 'Species Group', and 
  4. to find guides specific to RFMO convention areas, use the 'Keywords' filter and type, e.g., WCPFC, CCSBT. Alternatively, type in the ocean basin, e.g., Pacific ocean, south west Atlantic ocean.

Find them here:    Species identification field guides and safe handling and release guides

Why are bycatch species identification & safe handling and release important?

Good species identification skills among crew and observers are important for reasons of science (data quality) and compliance (the enforcement of conservation measures). Properly implemented safe handling and release procedures can improve crew safety and increase bycatch post-release survival. These two sets of skills are discussed in more detail below.

Species Identification

Correct identification of bycatch species is important to ensure bycatch data quality. Different species can look very similar* but it is necessary to distinguish between them because doing so can have repercussions for management and compliance. Some species are more productive than others, meaning that populations of these species may be more resilient to higher levels of incidental catch, while other, less-productive, species will be heavily impacted. Similarly, some species are more resilient to capture than other species (e.g., stationary-respiring shark species caught on longlines have been shown to have higher post-release survival rates than obligate ram-ventilators). Accurate bycatch data is needed to assess species populations and determine areas of high bycatch, as well as risk factors for bycatch interactions (for example, sea turtles and sea surface temperatures). In this way good quality data informs sustainable fisheries management.

With regard to compliance, crew and observers need to be sure of which species have been landed, if regulations are to be enforced, e.g., WCPFC CMM 2022-04 stipulates no retention of oceanic whitetip and silky sharks and further, that these species should be released according to safe release guidelines.

*With seabirds in particular, identifying them to species can be very difficult because dead, waterlogged birds often do not resemble pictures of live birds. ACAP have included pictures of dead birds in their Seabird Identification Guide to help remedy this issue.

Safe Handling and Release

Safe handling and release refers to using best practice methods for dealing with bycatch species, to maximise their chances of survival after interacting with fishing gear. It can also include vessel manoeuvring to avoid taking bycatch species, for example, avoiding setting on whale sharks. RFMO recommended safe handling and release advice addresses crew safety.