First assessment of circle hooks as bycatch mitigation measure for deep-water sharks on longline fisheries
The recognition that deep-water sharks are among the most vulnerable marine species to fisheries exploitation led to the implementation of fishing prohibition regulations in European waters. Reducing unwanted bycatch and mortality are key fisheries mitigation measure for the conservation of these species. Yet, few studies have investigated how to mitigate the common bycatch of these sharks on deep-water longline fisheries. Specifically, the potential of hook type as such a measure has never been investigated. Here, we conducted fishing experiments to test how circle hooks affect the catchability, the hooking position, and the overall condition of deep-water sharks, in comparison to the commonly used J-hooks in the Azores bottom longline fishery. We found that circle hooks did not significantly reduce deep hooking (throat or gut hooked), nor improve the overall condition of captured sharks, while the catchability of deep-water sharks on circle hooks was greater than on the J-hooks currently used in the local fishery. As such, circle hooks do not appear as a suitable measure to reduce deep-water shark bycatch and increase survival potential in deep-water longlining. Despite deep hooking being rare for the deep-water sharks caught with both hook types in the experiments, at-vessel mortality was still substantial (around 40%). Post-release survival remains mostly unquantified but preliminary results suggest it could also be high. This study highlights the urgent need for continued research addressing bycatch mitigation measures for deep-water sharks and identifying efficient strategies to reduce bycatch and increase survival.