Pingers reduce the activity of Burmeister’s porpoise around small-scale gillnet vessels
Incidental mortality (bycatch) in gillnet fisheries is a major threat to many cetacean populations. Acoustic alarms or pingers are a widely adopted management tool used to deter dolphins and porpoises from nets; however, their efficacy is largely species- and fishery-dependent. As such, results from experimental trials may have limited transferability to poorly studied species or fisheries. Here, we investigated the effect of pingers on the behaviour of Burmeister’s porpoise Phocoena spinipinnis in the vicinity of the Peruvian small-scale driftnet fleet. Over a 4 yr period (2009−2012), 116 control (without pingers) and 94 experimental (with pingers) fishing sets were observed, and porpoise acoustic activity around nets was recorded using passive acoustic loggers (C-PODs). We modelled variation in detection rates as a function of pinger use and habitat covariates, and found that in regions of preferred habitat associated with cooler (17−18°C), shallow waters (within the 100 m isobath), the use of pingers lead to an 86% reduction in porpoise activity around nets. Our results suggest that pingers are likely to be particularly effective at deterring Burmeister’s porpoises from fishing nets, and given the vast capacity of this and other fleets in the region, may substantially reduce mortality. This study also emphasizes the potential of passive acoustic monitoring to determine the effectiveness of bycatch mitigation measures, both for species for which visual observations are scarce, and also in regions where gathering statistically meaningful bycatch rates is logistically challenging.