Impacts of fisheries bycatch on loggerhead turtles worldwide inferred from reproductive value analyses
Summary 1 Fisheries bycatch has been implicated in declines of many long?lived marine vertebrate populations, but bycatch impacts on these populations vary according to spatio?temporal overlap in fisheries operations and critical ontogenetic habitat, as well as to characteristics of fishing gear. 2 To provide a framework for comparing the relative impacts of different fisheries on populations of loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta, we compiled published data on sizes of individual loggerheads taken as bycatch in North Atlantic, North Pacific and Mediterranean fisheries, and used Leslie matrix models to calculate reproductive values (RVs) for bycatch samples of loggerheads within these basins. 3 Sizes and RVs of loggerheads varied significantly based on spatial overlap in fisheries and ontogenetic habitat as well as on fishing gear. Thus, fisheries operating in areas occupied by larger, older turtles (e.g. trawls in neritic areas) tended to interact with more reproductively ?valuable? turtles than fisheries that operated in areas occupied by smaller, younger turtles (e.g. oceanic and pelagic longlines). 4 We also found evidence of size?selectivity among different fishing gears (e.g. wider size variation among loggerheads taken in driftnets and trawls than in longlines) and gear configuration (e.g. smaller loggerheads in shallow longline sets using small hooks). 5 These results suggest that evaluation of fishery impacts on marine megafauna require characterization of fishery activities; understanding of species biology must be considered in order to determine population impacts of fisheries bycatch. Data access and quality can be improved and uncertainty reduced by increasing independent observer coverage on fishing vessels throughout the world's oceans. 6 Syntheses and applications. Our analyses demonstrate that application of reproductive values can allow fisheries managers and biologists alike to identify the most influential bycatch threats to geographically widespread populations of long?lived marine vertebrates, thereby facilitating prioritization of conservation actions and successful management of these animals. For example, our results suggest that effective management of loggerhead catch in trawl gear should be one of the top priorities for conservation of loggerhead populations worldwide.