Effects of lunar cycle and fishing operations on longline-caught pelagic fish: fishing performance, capture time, and survival of fish
Commercial longline fishing data were analyzed and experiments were conducted with gear equipped with hook timers and time depth recorders in the Reunion Island fishery (21 degrees 5 minutes S lat., 53 degrees 28 minutes E long.) to elucidate direct and indirect effects of the lunar cycle and other operational factors that affect catch rates, catch composition, fish behavior, capture time, and fish survival. Logbook data from 1998 through 2000, comprising 2009 sets, indicated that swordfish (Xiphias gladius) catch per unit of effort (CPUE) increased during the first and last quarter of the lunar phase, whereas albacore (Thunnus alalunga) CPUE was highest during the full moon. Swordfish were caught rapidly after the longline was set and, like bigeye tuna (Thunnus obesus), they were caught during days characterized by a weak lunar illumination - mainly during low tide. We found a significant but very low influence of chemical lightsticks on CPUE and catch composition. At the time the longline was retrieved, six of the 11 species in the study had >40% survival. Hook timers indicated that only 8.4% of the swordfish were alive after 8 hours of capture, and two shark species (blue shark [Prionace glauca] and oceanic whitetip shark [Carcharhinus longimanus]) showed a greater resilience to capture: 29.3% and 23.5% were alive after 8 hours, respectively. Our results have implications for current fishing practices and we comment on the possibilities of modifying fishing strategies in order to reduce operational costs, bycatch, loss of target fish at sea, and detrimental impacts on the environment.