Impacts of fisheries bycatch on marine turtle populations worldwide: toward conservation and research priorities
Fisheries bycatch is considered the most serious threat globally to long-lived marine megafauna (e.g., mammals, birds, turtles, elasmobranchs). However, bycatch assessments to date have not evaluated population-level bycatch impacts across fishing gears. Here, we provide the first global, multi-gear evaluation of population-level fisheries bycatch impacts for marine turtles. To compare bycatch impacts of multiple gears within and among marine turtle populations (or regional management units, RMUs), we compiled more than 1,800 records from over 230 sources of reported marine turtle bycatch in longline, net, and trawl fisheries worldwide that were published between 1990–2011. The highest bycatch rates and levels of observed effort for each gear category occurred in the East Pacific, Northwest and Southwest Atlantic, and Mediterranean regions, which were also the regions of highest data availability. Overall, available data were dominated by longline records (nearly 60% of all records), and were non-uniformly distributed, with significant data gaps around Africa, in the Indian Ocean, and Southeast Asia. We found that bycatch impact scores—which integrate information on bycatch rates, fishing effort, mortality rates, and body sizes (i.e., proxies for reproductive values) of turtles taken as bycatch—as well as mortality rates in particular, were significantly lower in longline fishing gear than in net and trawl fishing gears. Based on bycatch impact scores and RMU-specific population metrics, we identified the RMUs most and least threatened by bycatch globally, and found wide variation among species, regions, and gears within these classifications. The lack of regional or species-specific patterns in bycatch impacts across fishing gears suggests that gear types and RMUs in which bycatch has the highest impact depend on spatially-explicit overlaps of fisheries (e.g., gear characteristics, fishing practices, target species), marine turtle populations (e.g., conservation status, aggregation areas), and underlying habitat features (e.g., oceanographic conditions). Our study provides a blueprint both for prioritizing limited conservation resources toward managing fishing gears and practices with the highest population impacts on sea turtles and for enhancing data collection and reporting efforts.