Shark discards in selective and mixed-species pelagic longline fisheries

Published on
31. August 2020

Shark discards in selective and mixed-species pelagic longline fisheries

Gareth L. Jordaan, Jorge Santos, Johan C. Groeneveld


The conservation status of several pelagic shark species is considered vulnerable with declining populations, yet data on shark fishing mortality remain limited for large ocean regions. Pelagic sharks are increasingly retained by mixed-species fisheries, or are discarded and not reported by selective fisheries for tunas (Thunnus spp.) or swordfish (Xiphias gladius). We estimated the fishing mortality of sharks (landings plus discard mortalities) in a South African-flagged pelagic longline fishery with diverse targeting and discard behaviour. A hierarchical cluster analysis was used to stratify the fleet according to the relative proportions of tunas, swordfish, blue sharks (Prionace glauca) and shortfin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) landed by individual vessels between 2013 and 2015. A spatial analysis of logbook data indicated that subfleets operated in distinct fishing areas, with overlap. Approximately 5% of all commercial longlines set during 2015 were sampled by a fisheries-independent observer, and the species, discard ratios and physical condition at discard of 6 019 captured sharks were recorded. Blue sharks and shortfin makos dominated observed shark catches, which were comprised of nine species and two species groups. Some 47% of observed sharks were retained and 20% were discarded in good physical condition. Only 4% of shortfin makos were discarded, compared to 68% of blue sharks. Blue shark discard mortality rates were twice as high as published at-vessel mortality rates, suggesting that onboard handling, among other factors, contributed to discard mortalities. Extrapolation to total fishing effort indicated a near 10-fold increase in blue shark and shortfin mako fishing mortality compared to an earlier study (1998–2005). Escalating shortfin mako fishing mortality was attributed to increased targeting to supply higher market demand. Discarding of blue sharks by selective fishing for tunas and swordfish had a greater impact on their fishing mortality than retention by shark-directed fleets. Higher levels of observer sampling are required to increase confidence in discard ratio estimates.

PLoS ONE 15(8): e0238595. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0238595


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