Untangling the impacts of nets in the southeastern Pacific: Rapid assessment of marine turtle bycatch to set conservation priorities in small-scale fisheries
Bycatch of marine megafauna by small-scale fisheries is of growing global concern. The southeastern Pacific sustains extensive fisheries that are important sources of food and employment for millions of people. Mismanagement, however, jeopardizes the sustainability of ecosystems and vulnerable species. We used survey questionnaires to assess the impact of small-scale gillnet fisheries on sea turtles across 3 nations (Ecuador, Peru and Chile), designed to fill data gaps and identify priority areas for future conservation work. A total of 765 surveys from 43 small-scale fishing ports were obtained (Ecuador: n = 379 fishers, 7 ports; Peru: n = 342 fishers, 30 ports; Chile: n = 44 fishers, 6 ports). The survey coverage in study harbors was 28% for Ecuador, 37.0% for Peru, and 62.7% for Chile. When these survey data are scaled up across the fleets within surveyed ports, the resulting estimate of total annual bycatch across the study harbors is 46 478 turtles; where Ecuador is 40 480, Peru 5 828 and Chile 170 turtles. Estimated mortality rates vary markedly between countries (Ecuador: 32.5%; Peru 50.8%; Chile 3.2%), leading to estimated lethal takes of 13 225, 2 927, and 6 turtles for Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, respectively. These estimates are remarkably large given that the ports surveyed constitute only 16.4, 41, and 22% of the national gillnet fleets in Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, respectively. Limited data from observer-based surveys in Peru suggest that information from surveys are reliable and still informative. Information from surveys clearly highlight Ecuador and Peru as priority areas for future work to reduce turtle bycatch, particularly given the status of regional populations such as leatherback and hawksbill turtles.