Effects of hook and bait in a tropical northeast Atlantic pelagic longline fishery: Part I—Incidental sea turtle bycatch

Coelho R, Santos MN, Fernandez-Carvalho J, Amorim S (2015) Effects of hook and bait in a tropical northeast Atlantic pelagic longline fishery: Part I—Incidental sea turtle bycatch. Fisheries Research 164:302–311. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2014.11.008

The interaction between tuna fisheries and sea turtles is commonly recognized as one of the major threats and causes for the decline of sea turtle populations. Within the tuna and swordfish fisheries, the incidental sea turtle bycatch is usually more frequent from longline fisheries targeting swordfish. Therefore it is important to test possible mitigation measures, particularly in areas where fishing activities and high abundance of these species overlaps, as is the case of the Tropical Northeast Atlantic Ocean. Between August 2008 and December 2011, a total of 202 experimental pelagic longline sets were carried out in that region (latitude: 11–22°N, longitude: 20–38°W). The aim was to test the effects of changing the traditional J-style hooks (10° offset) baited with squid used by the fishing industry, against two circle hooks (one non-offset and one with 10° offset) and mackerel bait. Four sea turtle species were captured, with the leatherback Dermochelys coriacea comprising most of the bycatches (BPUE, bycatch per unit of effort using the traditional configuration of 0.990 turtles/1000 hooks), followed by three hardshell species: the loggerhead Caretta caretta and the olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea (BPUE=0.165 turtles/1000 hooks), and the Kemp ridley Lepidochelys kempii (BPUE=0.024 turtles/1000 hooks). In general, the sea turtle interactions in the fishery can be reduced by changing from the traditional gear to one of the experimental combinations. However, those reductions were species-specific, with the leatherback bycatches reduced only when changing from J-style to the non-offset circle hook, while for the hardshell turtles both the hook style (using a circle hook, with or without offset) and the bait (using mackerel) significantly reduced the incidental bycatches. Hooking location was also species-specific, with most hardshell specimens hooked by the mouth and esophagus, while leatherbacks were mostly hooked externally by the flippers. Most of the sea turtles were captured and released alive with the mortality rates independent of the hook style and bait type used. A reduction of 55% in leatherback incidental bycatches can be expected in this fishery by changing from J-style to circle hooks, whereas for the hardshell species a 50–59% reduction can be obtained by changing to circle hooks (respectively with and without offset), and a 55% reduction by using mackerel bait.