Bycatch in the Maldivian pole-and-line tuna fishery
Tropical tuna fisheries are among the largest worldwide, with some having significant bycatch issues. However, pole-and-line tuna fisheries are widely believed to have low bycatch rates, although these have rarely been quantified. The Maldives has an important pole-and-line fishery, targeting skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis). In the Maldives, 106 pole-and-line tuna fishing days were observed between August 2014 and November 2015. During 161 fishing events, tuna catches amounted to 147 t: 72% by weight was skipjack, 25% yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and 3% other tunas. Bycatch (all non-tuna species caught plus all tuna discards) amounted to 951 kg (0.65% of total tuna catch). Most of the bycatch (95%) was utilized, and some bycatch was released alive, so dead discards were particularly low (0.02% of total tuna catch, or 22 kg per 100 t). Rainbow runner (Elagatis bipinnulata) and dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus) together constituted 93% of the bycatch. Live releases included small numbers of silky sharks (Carcharhinus falciformis) and seabirds (noddies, Anous tenuirostris and A. stolidus). Pole-and-line tuna fishing was conducted on free schools and schools associated with various objects (Maldivian anchored fish aggregating devices [aFADs], drifting FADs from western Indian Ocean purse seine fisheries, other drifting objects and seamounts). Free school catches typically included a high proportion of large skipjack and significantly less bycatch. Associated schools produced more variable tuna catches and higher bycatch rates. Fishing trips in the south had significantly lower bycatch rates than those in the north. This study is the first to quantify bycatch rates in the Maldives pole-and-line tuna fishery and the influence of school association on catch composition. Ratio estimator methods suggest roughly 552.6 t of bycatch and 27.9 t of discards are caught annually in the fishery (based on 2015 national catch), much less than other Indian Ocean tuna fisheries, e.g. gillnet, purse-seine, and longline.