Bycatch rates in fisheries largely driven by variation in individual vessel behaviour
Fisheries bycatch continues to drive the decline of many threatened marine species such as seabirds, sharks, marine mammals and sea turtles. Management frameworks typically address incidental catch with fleet-level controls on fishing. Yet, individual operators differ in their fishing practices and efficiency at catching fish. If operators have differing abilities to target, they should also have differing abilities to avoid bycatch. We analysed variations in threatened species bycatch among individual operators from five industrial fisheries representing different geographic areas, gear types and target species. The individual vessel is a significant predictor of bycatch for 15 of the 16 cases, including species that represent high or low costs to fishers or have economic value as potentially targeted byproducts. Encouragingly, we found high-target and low-bycatch operators in all five sectors, including gears known for high bycatch mortality worldwide. These results show that there is untapped opportunity to reduce negative environmental impacts of fisheries with interventions targeting specific performance groups of individuals, supporting an alternative perspective towards managing global fisheries.