Characteristics of Fishing Operations, Environment and Life History Contributing to Small Cetacean Bycatch in the Northeast Atlantic
Fisheries bycatch is a key threat to cetacean species globally. Managing the impact requires an understanding of the conditions under which animals are caught and the sections of the population affected. We used observer data collected on an albacore tuna gillnet fishery in the northeast Atlantic, to assess operational and environmental factors contributing to bycatch of common and striped dolphins, using generalised linear models and model averaging. Life history demographics of the captured animals were also investigated. In both species, young males dominated the catch. The age ratio of common dolphins was significantly different from that estimated for the population in the region, based on life tables (G = 17.1, d.f. = 2, p = 0.002). Skewed age and sex ratios may reflect varying vulnerability to capture, through differences in behaviour or segregation in populations. Adult females constituted the second largest portion of the bycatch for both species, with potential consequences for population sustainability. Depth was the most important parameter influencing bycatch of both species and reflected what is known about common and striped dolphin habitat use in the region as the probability of catching common dolphins decreased, and striped dolphins increased, with increasing depth. Striped dolphin capture was similarly influenced by the extent to which operations were conducted in daylight, with the probability of capture increasing with increased operations in the pre-sunset and post-sunrise period, potentially driven by increased ability of observers to record animals during daylight operations, or by diurnal movements increasing contact with the fishery. Effort, based on net length and soak time, had little influence on the probability of capturing either species. Our results illustrate the importance of assessing the demographic of the animals captured during observer programmes and, perhaps more importantly, suggest that effort restrictions alone may not be sufficient to eradicate bycatch in areas where driftnets and small cetaceans co-occur.