Incidental capture of sea turtles in the Northeast Atlantic Portuguese pelagic longline fishery
Incidental catch or bycatch of sea turtles by pelagic longline fisheries is a major concern worldwide. The Northeast Atlantic hosts key foraging and developmental areas for oceanic juvenile loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) originating mainly from the Southeastern USA and Cape Verde. This region may be one of the most heavily fished areas by pelagic longline for which no recent assessments of fisheries interactions exist. We analysed fishery observer data collected between 2015 and 2020 to assess sea turtle bycatch by Portuguese commercial longliners targeting swordfish (Xiphias gladius) and blue shark (Prionace glauca) in the Northeast Atlantic. A total of 177 sea turtles interacted with the gear during the 896 fishing sets (887,641 hooks) monitored. Loggerheads (n = 139) ranging between 32 and 78 cm curved carapace length (CCL) were caught at a rate of 0.152 turtles per 1000 hooks, and leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea; n = 38) between 100 and 210 cm estimated length at a rate of 0.043 turtles per 1000 hooks. Loggerhead and leatherback bycatch shows a clear seasonal pattern in the region. At haul-back mortality rates of oceanic-stage juvenile loggerheads was estimated at 26% whereas no at haul-back mortality was registered for leatherback turtles. Model estimates, based on AIS derived fishing effort from Global Fishing Watch, indicate a total of 1439 interactions (552–3069 BCI) for loggerhead, and 604 interactions (262–1129 BCI) for leatherback turtles between 2016 and 2020. Information from this study is essential to support effective management strategies for sea turtle conservation in the Northeast Atlantic.