Capture stress and post-release mortality of blacktip sharks in recreational charter fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico

Published on
18. May 2020

Capture stress and post-release mortality of blacktip sharks in recreational charter fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico

John A Mohan, Elizabeth R Jones, Jill M Hendon, Brett Falterman, Kevin M Boswell, Eric R Hoffmayer, R J David Wells


Understanding the stress responses of sharks to recreational catch and release fishing has important management and conservation implications. The blacktip shark Carcharhinus limbatus is a popular recreational species targeted throughout the western, central and eastern Gulf of Mexico (Gulf) yet it is unclear what levels of physiological stress result from catch-release fishing practices with hook and line gear and if the stress levels result in post-release mortality. This study correlates physiological response to stress through blood chemistry analysis and examines post-release behaviour of adult blacktip sharks caught to determine post-release mortality rates. Release behaviour was determined by pop-up satellite archival transmitting (PSAT) tags that record temperature, depth and light level data. To quantify physiological stress levels, blood samples were collected from 52 blacktip sharks and a suite of metabolic and osmotic markers were measured. Thirty-six of those blacktip sharks were also outfitted with a PSAT tag yielding time-at-large from 3 to 180 days. Of the 36 tags, 22 (61%) provided sufficient data to confirm post-release fate and 11 (31%) were recovered providing high-resolution data. Tag data suggests a post-release morality rate of 22.7% (95% confidence interval 7.8–45.4%), with mortality occurring within minutes (immediate mortality) to over 12 h post-release (delayed mortality). Compared to survivors, immediate mortalities exhibited significantly higher lactate (median 2.8 mmol/Lsurvivor vs 5.9 mmol/Limmediate mortality) and significantly lower hematocrit (median 24.4% survivor vs 14% immediate mortality) levels, but no difference was detected between survivors and delayed mortalities. Higher mortality in the western (30%) compared to the central (20%) Gulf may be due to shark handling. All PSATs from mortalities (N = 5) were recovered, and archived data revealed evidence of tag ingestion by predators. Results suggest reduced fight time, decreased handling time and limited air exposure provide blacktip sharks the best survival chances after release by recreational anglers.

Conservation Physiology, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2020, DOI 10.1093/conphys/coaa041


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