Bycatch Initiative: Eastern Pacific Programme - A vehicle towards sustainable fisheries

Mug M, Hall M, Vogel N (2008) Bycatch Initiative: Eastern Pacific Programme - A vehicle towards sustainable fisheries. WWF and IATTC, San Jose, CA

In 2003, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) started a joint venture project with the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) and other partners to save marine turtles from long-line fisheries bycatch in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The program has grown to become a region-wide bycatch network and the largest regional artisanal fisheries conservation program in Latin America. Key initial partners of this program include IATTC, NOAA, Ocean Conservancy, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council (WPRFMC), the Overseas Fisheries Cooperation Foundation of Japan (OFCFJapan), and WWF.

The objective of the project is to reduce the threat to marine turtle populations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean due to bycatch interactions in long-line fishing operations. To achieve this objective, the program is working cooperatively with fishermen, boat owners, governments and other key stakeholders to identify and test means to reduce marine turtle bycatch and reach a massive transformation of the long-line fleets towards the adoption of best fishing practices for sustainable fisheries. This participatory approach to marine turtle bycatch mitigation has several benefits: 1. It allows direct trials of circle hooks by fishermen. 2. Data collected by observers are entered into the database and as more fishermen join the program and accept an onboard observer, a better understanding about the fishery and the nature of the interaction with marine turtles is gained. 3. As the number of fishermen participating in the program increases, eventual regulations coming from the fishing authority have a better chance of being supported by fishermen. 4. The project provides a practical and current opportunity for fishermen to be part of a major effort to save marine turtles to become key drivers of change. The hope is that this "ownership" will lead to the dawn of a new culture of multi-sector collaboration and continuous improvement. 5. Innovative ideas coming from the direct experience of fishermen can greatly contribute to enhancing the performance of bycatch mitigation tools, and in directing the adaption of solutions to particular fishery circumstances.

The program demonstrates a positive outcome trend from the circle hooks experiments. For the two long-line artisanal fisheries predominant in the Eastern Pacific, tuna-billfish-sharks (TBS) and mahi-mahi, circle hooks reduce bycatch of marine turtles. Preliminary results also suggest that circle hooks may result in more benign hooking locations. To date, 95% of all turtles caught in long-line experiments, either hooked or entangled, were reported to have been recovered alive by observers. This finding is most encouraging since it is a strong endorsement of the value of proper turtle handling and releasing techniques by fishermen. The data also show that where entanglements constitute a recurrent problem, the use of monofilament to construct the gear could dramatically reduce entanglements.

The second most important condition that circle hooks need to meet as a bycatch solution is to catch fish at a similar rate to the J hooks they are going to replace. Preliminary findings of the experiments indicate that circle hooks do perform as well as J hooks in the TBS fishery. Results of experiments with circle hooks in the mahi-mahi fishery show a wider range of results in fish catch rates. Here, there are more cases of where circle hooks exhibit lower commercial catch rates than J hooks. The program will continue its research in the mahi-mahi fishery to ascertain the correct fishing condition that will allow commercial catch rates to be maintained whilst simultaneously reducing turtle bycatch.

Clearly, there are other challenges to make the transformation of the fleet to circle hooks a reality. These are, among others: a) making circle hooks and other bycatch tools available in local markets at reasonable and competitive prices; b) promoting the institutional adoption of the observer pro