Diurnal patterns in Gulf of Mexico epipelagic predator interactions with pelagic longline gear: implications for target species catch rates and bycatch mitigation
Bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries is of substantial international concern, and the mitigation of bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico has been considered as an option to help restore lost biomass following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The most effective bycatch mitigation measures operate upon a differential response between target and bycatch species, ideally maintaining target catch while minimizing bycatch. We investigated whether bycatch vs target catch rates varied between day and night sets for the United States pelagic longline fishery in the Gulf of Mexico by comparing the influence of diel time period and moon illumination on catch rates of 18 commonly caught species/species groups. A generalized linear model approach was used to account for operational and environmental covariates, including: year, season, water temperature, hook type, bait, and maximum hook depth. Time of day or moon phase was found to significantly alter catch rates for 88% of the taxa examined. Six taxa—swordfish (Xiphias gladius Linnaeus, 1758); tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier Péron and Lesueur, 1822); silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis Müller and Henle, 1839); oilfish (Ruvettus pretiosus Cocco, 1833); bigeye thresher shark (Alopias superciliosus Lowe, 1841); and escolar (Lepidocybium flavobrunneum Smith, 1843)—exhibited higher catch rates at night, while eight taxa—skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis Linnaeus, 1758); wahoo (Acanthocybium solandri Cuvier, 1832); white marlin [Kajikia albida (Poey, 1860]; dolphinfish (Coryphaena sp.); yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares Bonnaterre, 1788); rays (Pteroplatytrygon violacea Bonaparte, 1832, Mobulidae sp.); lancetfish (Alepisaurus sp.), and blue marlin (Makaira nigricans Lacépède, 1802)—had higher daytime catch rates. These results reveal that shifts in effort between daytime and nighttime fishing (which are highly correlated with shifts between yellowfin tuna and swordfish targeting strategies) could have substantial, species-specific effects on bycatch rates. Whether driven by fishery conditions, market influences, or management measures, such temporal shifts in the timing of pelagic longline sets may have important implications for species-specific conservation goals and warrant further consideration.