Long-Term Effectiveness, Failure Rates, and “Dinner Bell” Properties of Acoustic Pingers in a Gillnet Fishery
The long-term effectiveness of acoustic pingers in reducing marine mammal bycatch was assessed for the swordfish and thresher shark drift gillnet fishery in California. Between 1990 and 2009, data on fishing gear, environmental variables, and bycatch were recorded for over 8,000 fishing sets by at-sea fishery observers, including over 4,000 sets outfitted with acoustic pingers between 1996 and 2009. Bycatch rates of cetaceans in sets with ≥30 pingers were nearly 50% lower compared to sets without pingers (p = 1.2 × 10−6), though this result is driven largely by common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) bycatch. Beaked whales have not been observed entangled in this fishery since 1995, the last full year of fishing without acoustic pingers. Pinger failure (≥1 nonfunctioning pingers in a net) was noted in 3.7% of observed sets. In sets where the number of failed pingers was recorded, approximately 18% of deployed pingers had failed. Cetacean bycatch rates were 10 times higher in sets where ≥1 pingers failed versus sets without pinger failure (p = 0.002), though sample sizes for sets with pinger failure were small. No evidence of habituation to pingers by cetaceans was apparent over a 14-year period of use. Bycatch rates of California sea lions in sets with ≥30 pingers were nearly double that of sets without pingers, which prompted us to examine the potential “dinner bell” effects of pingers. Depredation of swordfish catch by California sea lions was not linked to pinger use—the best predictors of depredation were total swordfish catch, month fished, area fished, and nighttime use of deck lights on vessels.