Investigating weighted fishing hooks for seabird bycatch mitigation
Fisheries bycatch threatens the viability of some seabird populations and reduces fishing efficiency. Albatross bycatch in a US North Pacific tuna longline fishery has increased over the past decade and now exceeds 1000 annual captures. Seabirds interacting with this fishery reach hooks at depths up to 1 m. A branchline weight’s mass and distance from the hook affect seabird catch rates. We conducted experimental fishing to compare the commercial viability of a weighted hook relative to conventional gear with weights attached 0.75 m from the hook. We used a Bayesian random effects meta-analytic regression modelling approach to estimate pooled expected species-specific log relative risk of capture on conventional versus experimental gear. There was a significant 53% (95% HDI: − 75 to − 25%) decrease in retained species’ catch rates on experimental hooks, indicating an unacceptable economic cost, and no significant effect for discarded species. Using a Bayesian general linear mixed regression modelling approach, experimental hooks sank to 85 cm ca. 1.4 times (95% HDI: 1.37–1.48) faster than control hooks. Given their potential to reduce seabird catch rates, eliminate safety risks from bite-offs and facilitate robust compliance monitoring, it is a priority to find a weighted hook design with acceptable catch rates.