Impact of swordfish fisheries on sea turtles in the Azores.
The surface longline fishery around the Azores targets swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Bycatch from this fishery includes loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) and occasionally leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) that are either hooked or entangled in the lines. Hooks are generally set at depths of 15-50 m and baited with squid, mackerel, or sometimes with shark meat. The size classes of loggerhead sea turtles caught ranged from 41.3 to 65.4 cm curved carapace length and constitutes the largest size class of loggerheads occurring in the Azores. The impact on this size class affects the survival of the southeastern United States (SEUS) population of loggerheads because the loggerheads from the Azores are primarily from SEUS rookeries. For one commercial longline boat, we observed that the mean capture of turtles per 1000 hooks by month ranged between a minimum of 0.04 in May and a maximum of 0.79 in July with a weighted mean catch of 0.27. October and November also registered high catch rates. Of 60 turtles recorded, 54 were hooked in the mouth, 3 in the esophagus, 1 in the eye, 1 in the flipper, and one was undetermined. The turtles that were caught were physically strong, except one that was weak and another dead. Total capture of loggerhead sea turtles is estimated to be 4190 for the entire fleet fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Azores during the swordfish season (May to December) of 1998. We strongly recommend that observer programs be continued because capture rates may vary among years and among fishing boats.