The impact of pelagic longline fishing on the flesh-footed shearwater Puffinus carneipes in Eastern Australia
The flesh-footed shearwater (Puffinus carneipes) is a medium-sized seabird (ca. 700g) that is incidentally killed during longline fishing operations. We examined the levels of bycatch in Australia’s Eastern Tuna and Billfish Fishery and developed a model to examine the impact of this fishery on the eastern Australian population of flesh-footed shearwaters, which breeds at only one site, Lord Howe Island. Observed bycatch rates for flesh-footed shearwaters were 0.378 birds/1000 hooks for night sets, and 0.945 birds/1000 hooks for day sets. The mean number of birds killed from 1998 to 2002 was estimated to be 1794–4486 birds per year, with the estimated total killed over this period ranging from 8972 to 18,490 birds. Models incorporating both density-independent and density-dependent scenarios were applied to levels of bycatch representative of that observed in the fishery. Density-independent scenarios showed that fishing mortality levels caused declines in the majority of simulated populations. In contrast, density-dependent scenarios produced populations that were more resilient to fishing mortalities. Although some modelling scenarios led to population growth, under most stochastic simulations median population halving and quasi-extinction times were less than 55 and 120 years, respectively. We conclude that the level of bycatch observed in the fishery is most likely unsustainable and threatens the survival of the Lord Howe Island population. This situation can be improved only with the development and implementation of mitigation measures that will halt or greatly reduce the level of bycatch currently observed. Improved knowledge on a range of demographic parameters for the species, combined with a clearer idea of the at-sea distribution of breeding and non-breeding shearwaters, will greatly assist in improving understanding and the management of this population.