Circle hooks: Developing better fishing practices in the artisanal longline fisheries of the Eastern Pacific Ocean
Since 2004, governments and non-governmental organizations, together with the fishing communities from nine countries, from Mexico to Peru, have implemented joint efforts to reduce incidental mortality of sea turtles in artisanal longline fisheries of the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). These countries are involved in a Regional Sea Turtle Bycatch Program to achieve this goal. Circle hooks have been proposed as a way to mitigate incidental mortality of sea turtles. Thus, we analyze the performance of circle hooks in relation to J-style and tuna hooks on the hooking rates of target and non-target species in the artisanal surface longline fisheries of three of the participating countries with the largest sample sizes (Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica). These fisheries target mahi-mahi, Coryphaena hippurus, or a combination of tunas, billfishes and sharks (TBS), and use different techniques and gear configurations to catch their targets. For the TBS fishery we presented the results of comparisons between tuna hooks and 16/0 circle hooks from Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica, and between tuna hooks and 18/0 circle hooks in Costa Rica. For the mahi-mahi fishery, we analyzed the performance of 14/0 and 15/0 circle hooks in Ecuadorian vessels and 16/0 circle hooks in Costa Rican vessels vs. the traditional J-style hooks. A total of 730,362 hooks were observed in 3126 sets. Hooking rates for target and non-target species were not consistent for all fisheries and countries analyzed. However, circle hooks reduced sea turtle hooking rates in most of the comparisons.