Trialing net illumination as a bycatch mitigation measure for sea turtles in a small-scale gillnet fishery in Ecuador
In Ecuador, one of the main hazards for threatened marine species, such as sea turtles, is small-scale fisheries bycatch. At a global scale, currently, bycatch reduction technologies (BRTs) are being tested in many coastal nations to mitigate this issue. Despite some advances in Ecuadorian efforts for wildlife protection, BRTs to reduce bycatch have yet to be assessed. The purpose of this study was to test the BRT of net illumination using violet light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as a mitigation measure to reduce sea turtle interactions in the small-scale driftnet fishery operating from the ports of Santa Rosa, Puerto Lopez and Jaramijo. A total of 146 pairs of experimental sets (control and illuminated panes) were deployed in all ports. A generalized linear mixed-effect model (GLMM) was employed to analyze the bycatch per unit of effort (BPUE) for sea turtles, and the catch per unit of effort (CPUE) for target species; for both control and illuminated panes. Thirty-two sea turtles from three species were observed captured: olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea (n=18), green Chelonia mydas (n=13) and leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea (n=1). Turtle species-specific modeling showed bycatch of green turtles declined by 93% in illuminated nets compared with control, non-illuminated nets, whereas no significant difference between control and illuminated nets was observed for olive ridley turtles. The catch per unit effort of the pelagic fish species including skipjack tuna, yellowfin tuna, mahi-mahi, thresher shark and smooth hammerhead shark was not affected by net illumination. Our results represent the first evaluation of the effects of net illumination using LEDs on reducing marine turtle bycatch in Ecuadorian small-scale driftnet fisheries. Despite its relatively small sample size, these results could be used by fisheries managers to support the implementation or further testing of this BRT in gillnet fisheries along the Ecuadorian coast.