Exploring odontocete depredation rates in a pelagic longline fishery

Gilman E, Chaloupka M, Pacini A, Kingma E (2024) Exploring odontocete depredation rates in a pelagic longline fishery. PLOS ONE 19:e0301072. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0301072

Several odontocete species depredate catch and bait from fishing gear, resulting in their bycatch and causing substantial economic costs. There are no known mitigation methods for odontocete depredation in pelagic longline fisheries that are effective, do not harm odontocetes and are commercially viable. Understanding odontocetes’ depredation strategies can contribute to mitigating this human-wildlife conflict. Using observer data from the Hawaii-based tuna longline fishery, this study summarized teleost and elasmobranch species-specific mean posterior odontocete depredation rates using a simple Bayesian binomial likelihood estimator with a Bayes-Laplace prior. Depredation rates of species with sufficient sample sizes ranged from a high of 1.2% (1.1 to 1.3 95% highest posterior density interval or HDI) for shortbill spearfish to a low of 0.002% (0.001 to 0.003 95% HDI) for blue shark. Depredation of catch is a rare event in this fishery, occurring in about 6% of sets. When depredation did occur, most frequently odontocetes depredated a small proportion of the catch, however, there was large variability in depredation rates between teleost species. For example, bigeye tuna was two times more likely to be depredated than yellowfin tuna (odds ratio = 2.03, 95% CI: 1.8–2.3, P<0.0001). For sets with depredation, 10% and 2% of sets had depredation of over half of the captured bigeye tuna and combined teleosts, respectively. All elasmobranch species had relatively low depredation rates, where only 7 of almost 0.5M captured elasmobranchs were depredated. Odontocetes selectively depredate a subset of the teleost species captured within sets, possibly based on net energy value, chemical, visual, acoustic and textural characteristics and body size, but not median length, which was found to be unrelated to depredation rate (Pearson’s r = 0.14, 95% CI: -0.26 to 0.50, p = 0.49). Study findings provide evidence to support the identification and innovation of effective and commercially viable methods to mitigate odontocete depredation and bycatch.