Quantitative estimates of post-release survival rates of sharks captured in Pacific tuna longline fisheries reveal handling and discard practices that improve survivorship
Also published as WCPFC-SC18-2022/EB-IP-19.
Shark catch rates are higher in pelagic longline fisheries than in any other fishery, and sharks are typically discarded (bycatch) at sea. The post-release fate of discarded sharks is largely unobserved and could pose a significant source of unquantified mortality that may change stock assessment outcomes and prevent sound conservation and management advice. This study assessed post-release mortality rates of blue (Prionace glauca), bigeye thresher (Alopias superciliosus), oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus), silky (C. falciformis) and shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrhincus) sharks discarded in the Hawaii deep-set and American Samoa longline fisheries targeting tuna in the central Pacific Ocean. The impacts on survival rates were examined considering species, fishery, fishing gear configuration, handling method, animal condition at capture and at release, and the amount of trailing fishing gear remaining on discarded sharks. Bayesian survival analysis showed that the condition at release (good vs. injured), branchline leader material, and the amount of trailing fishing gear left on the animals were among the factors that had the largest effect on post-release fate—animals captured on monofilament branchline leaders and released in good condition without trailing fishing gear had the highest rates of survival. This study shows that fisher behavior can have a significant impact on pelagic shark post-release mortality. Ensuring that sharks are handled carefully and released with minimal amounts of trailing fishing gear may reduce fishing mortality on shark populations.