An overview on elasmobranch release as a bycatch mitigation strategy
Sharks and rays are among the most threatened vertebrates, mostly due to commercial fisheries. Data on incidental capture is sparse, but it is estimated that about 50% of reported global catches of elasmobranchs are from bycatch. Elasmobranchs are captured in a variety of fishing gear throughout the world. One promising strategy to minimize incidental catches is the release of live sharks and rays. However, so far, no critical analysis had been carried out to assess the importance of release as a measure to mitigate the impacts of bycatch. Results indicated that despite onboard releases being cited in Plans of Action (along ZEEs) and recommendations/regulations of Regional Fisheries Management Commissions (in international waters), this measure is treated as secondary and has voluntary adherence, which can significantly reduce its efficiency. Moreover, among the Best Fishing Practice Manuals currently available, although release is cited as a priority, most of them do not consider the dynamics of the location/fishing modality for which it was developed. A change on how release is perceived is needed to prioritize this conservation strategy, as well as its potential as a social tool to reduce the impacts of bycatch on sharks and rays.