Two devices for mitigating odontocete bycatch and depredation at the hook in tropical pelagic longline fisheries
Odontocete bycatch on and depredation from tropical pelagic longlines is globally widespread, having negative impacts on the economic viability of affected fisheries and on the conservation of affected odontocete populations. Reports by fishers that depredating odontocetes avoid gear tangles has underpinned the development of simulated structures to physically deter depredating odontocetes. This study assessed the efficacy of two such devices developed to mitigate odontocete depredation and associated bycatch. Of particular interest was their impact on (i) soak depth and (ii) sink rate using truncated trials, before determining their impact under full operational conditions on rates of (iii) catch of the five most economically important fish, and (iv) odontocete depredation and bycatch, on changes in (v) fish survival and size, and (vi) setting and hauling speed. The results indicated that the inclusion of devices on longlines had negligible impact on soak depth, thus were unlikely to impact on the suite of fish specifically targeted and caught. The sink rate was slowed, perhaps by drag, trapped air, or propeller wash, although the addition of weight might remedy this if the devices were to be used in areas where seabird bycatch could occur. Most importantly, trials conducted in Australian and in Fijian waters indicated that pooled fish catch rates (i.e. albacore, yellowfin, bigeye, mahi mahi, and wahoo) increased in the presence of the devices, possibly because more fish were attracted by them or because more depredators were deterred. Catch rates on control gear next to gear with devices attached were higher than more distant control gear, suggesting the influences of the devices may have extended to adjacent branchlines. The size of caught fish was mostly unaffected, although the survival of yellowfin and bigeye increased significantly in the presence of the devices. Hauling was slowed by the use of the devices and the need for an extra crewmember during setting and hauling, which could be cost prohibitive in some fisheries, especially if economic benefits from their use are not obvious. Despite the small sample size, odontocete bycatch only occurred on unprotected fishing gear and all individuals were released alive, although their fate was uncertain; there was evidence of injuries sustained from the event. The outcomes are positive and should motivate stakeholders to view such devices as a potentially effective tool for mitigating odontocete bycatch and depredation in this and similar longline fisheries. Future efforts should focus on improving operational integration and reducing implementation costs to encourage voluntary uptake and thus avoid non-compliance and the need for costly monitoring. The use of this technology could bring about marked improvements to the conservation situation for affected odontocete populations and to the economic situation for affected longline fisheries.