Porpoise Rescue Methods in the Yellowfin Purse Seine Fishery and the Importance of Medina Panel Mesh Size
Introduction of the porpoise releasing method known as “backdown” by Anton Meizetich and Manuel Neves and the development of small-mesh porpoise safety panels by Harold Medina raises the question of the optimum mesh size for the panels. Medina panels of relatively standard dimensions hung from 2-inch mesh webbing had been installed in about half the nets of the U. S. tuna purse seine fleet before passage of the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The fishermen believed, and several statistical studies indicated, that use of the panel resulted in lower porpoise mortality. Despite the improved performance, however, porpoises were still being entangled in nets during the backdown process and a recent study indicates that up to 30 percent of porpoise mortality is due to this factor. Using mainly porpoise specimens taken in the fishery, measurements of penetration of porpoise snouts and flippers through mesh openings of 2, 1 Va, 1 ’14 and 1 inches were made to elucidate the potential reduction in porpoise entanglement that could be expected through use of Medina panel mesh sizes of less than 2 inches. With their jaws closed, the snouts of even the smallest specimen could not penetrate 1-inch mesh, and the average penetration with the jaws open was grossly reduced as were penetrations of pectoral fins. Because of added weight and drag, additions of large sections of small-mesh netting can drastically affect the buoyancy and hydrodynamic performance of purse seines. Recent tests of porpoise “aprons” and “chutes” (trapezoidal-shaped sections of webbing appended to Medina panels) promise a means of making small-mesh netting compatible with tuna purse seine performance.