Marine mammals used as bait for improvised fish aggregating devices in marine waters of Ecuador, eastern tropical Pacific
Fish aggregating devices (FADs) are floating objects typically used to attract and capture pelagic fish in industrial tuna fisheries. This study documents 9 cases, involving 31 marine mammals, of incidentally captured, killed or otherwise retrieved cetaceans and pinnipeds which were used, or presumably used, as bait for improvised fish aggregation devices (IFAD) by artisanal fishers in coastal Ecuador. At least 3 species of small cetaceans were affected, including pantropical spotted dolphin Stenella attenuata, short-finned pilot whale Globicephala macrorhynchus, pygmy killer whale Feresa attenuata and an unidentified small delphinid, as well as South American sea lions Otaria byronia which were reportedly killed on purpose for this fishing practice. A sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus and a humpback whale Megaptera novaeangliae were presumably found floating at sea and opportunistically exploited as FADs. The South American sea lion represented 80.6% of marine mammals used as bait associated with FADs (25 sea lions out of 31 marine mammals), while the remaining 5 (possibly 6) cetacean species represented 19.4%. This is the first report of baited FADs in Ecuador, the extent of which is still unknown. This fishing technique has not been documented in other nations along the west coast of South America, although baiting of gillnets with marine mammal parts is common in Peru. Without fisheries management and regulation, this illegal fishing practice could rapidly expand and lead to further direct kills and conservation problems for targeted marine mammal populations in the eastern tropical Pacific. A bottom-up fisheries policy in concert with community-based conservation to ban the use of marine mammals as FAD bait is recommended.