Effect of longline configuration on seabird mortality in the Argentine semi-pelagic Kingclip Genypterus blacodes fishery
Incidental mortality of seabirds caused by longline fisheries in the south-western Atlantic Ocean has been assessed only with reference to the number of birds caught, not taking into account how the configuration of the gear affects mortality. We provide the first direct estimates of the impact on seabirds of the semi-pelagic fishing gear used in the Argentine Kingclip Genypterus blacodes fishery. The gear included weights and buoys, sequentially spaced along the lines, which enabled fishing to occur at different depths. During a fishing trip onboard the F/V Argenova XII in the austral summer of 2005, 74 birds were captured, comprising 56 White-chinned petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis and 18 Black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophrys. More than half of the hooked birds were caught in the first third of the lines being set, and almost all White-chinned petrels (96%) and Black-browed albatrosses (83%) were caught within 30 m (i.e. 24 hooks) of buoys. The floats used in semi-pelagic longlines are likely to decrease the sinking rates of baited hooks near them, buoying up the lines near the surface and increasing the likelihood of seabird interactions. Although we lack information on the distribution of captured fish along these longlines, the most feasible methods to reduce seabird bycatch in the Argentine semi-pelagic longline fishery would be (1) to deploy lines without hooks near line floats (the removal of 24 hooks either side of each float should substantially reduce seabird interactions with gear) or (2) to use long snoods between the mainline and the floats, allowing the baited hooks to quickly sink beyond the reach of seabirds.