Capture time, size and hooking mortality of bottom longline-caught sharks
The primary gear type used to harvest coastal sharks in the U.S. Atlantic shark fishery is bottom longline. Recent stock assessments have found several species of coastal sharks in U.S. Atlantic Ocean waters have declined from 60% to 80% of virgin levels. To aid in stock rebuilding, alternative gear restriction measures such as reduced soak time, restrictions on the length of gear, and fishing depth restrictions have been considered but not implemented. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of some of these management measures, controlled experiments were performed using hook timers and time depth recorders, assessing the factors affecting mortality during longline capture for the four most abundant species that incurred at-vessel mortality: sandbar (Carcharhinus plumbeus), blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus), bull (Carcharhinus leucas), and blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus). Our results indicate that as hook time and shark size increased mortality rates for the sandbar and blacktip sharks increased. Predicted models indicated mortality rates increased steadily for the three species but appeared to increase the most after 10, 6, and 1 h on the hook for sandbar, blacktip and blacknose shark, respectively. Sandbar sharks larger than approximately 170 cm FL are more susceptible to hooking mortality. Blacknose shark mortality rates increased as hook time increased but bull shark mortality rates were not affected by any factor. The probability of a hook being bitten increased the most between 5 and 12 h after the fishing gear had been set and the mean amount of time hooks were in the water prior to being bitten was 4, 5 and 9 h for sandbar and blacknose sharks, blacktip, and bull sharks, respectively. A significant difference was found between these means for sandbar and bull sharks and between blacknose and bull sharks. Shark species were commonly caught at different temperature and depth ranges. These results could be used by fisheries management to implement restrictions of fishing depth and soak time to aid in the recovery of coastal sharks species.