The Portuguese industrial pelagic longline fishery in the Northeast Atlantic: Catch composition, spatio-temporal dynamics of fishing effort, and target species catch rates
The multispecific and highly dynamic nature of pelagic longline fisheries demands a holistic view that will likely benefit the development of effective management strategies. This study aims to provide an integrated perspective of the Portuguese longline fishery targeting swordfish Xiphias gladius and blue shark Prionace glauca in the Northeast Atlantic, regarding fishing dynamics, target species catches and associated bycatch. Data from 896 observed fishing sets (887,641 hooks) collected between 2015 and 2020 were used in a cluster analysis to group sets according to the target species. These sets were investigated for spatio-temporal patterns, and the relationship between target species catches and environmental and operational characteristics were examined using generalized additive mixed models (GAMM). A total of 46,306 individuals from 54 species (30 fish, 11 sharks, 2 manta rays, 6 cetaceans, 2 sea turtles and 2 seabirds) were recorded. Swordfish and blue shark comprised over 88.3% of the total catch in numbers (33.6% and 54.7%, respectively). Overall, most of the fishing effort occurred west off mainland Portugal, congregated during autumn when vessels targeted mostly swordfish, and dispersed over the region during spring and summer, when vessels targeted mostly blue shark. The bycatch of sea turtles and a relatively higher diversity of bony fish species, yet low catch in terms of abundance, appeared more associated with sets identified as targeting swordfish. Recorded catch of tunas Thunnus spp. and pelagic sharks, such as the shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus and the porbeagle Lamna nasus, were more associated with blue shark sets. Bigeye thresher Alopias superciliosus, thresher Alopias vulpinus, pelagic stingray Pteroplatytrygon violacea and lancetfish Alepisauros ferox were found equally associated with both targeted species. Management strategies for the region are discussed in light of these new findings.