Bycatch of billfishes by the European tuna purse-seine fishery in the Atlantic Ocean


Gaertner, Daniel, Frederic Menard, Carol Develter, and Javier Ariz
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Billfishes are a component of offshore ecosystems; thus it is important to quantify the impact of the tuna fishery on these species in the world’s ocean. The aim of this study was to assess the bycatch of billfishes generated by the tropical tuna purse-seine fishery in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. Information on bycatch was collected by observers at sea during the European Union Bigeye Program. With a total of 62 observers’ trips, conducted on Spanish and French vessels between June 1997 and May 1999, this project is the biggest observer program ever carried out in the European tuna purse-seine fishery. This study showed that billfish bycatch by the purse seiners is very low (less than 0.021% of the total tuna catches and less than 10% of the total billfish catches currently reported). A Monte Carlo simulation was performed to account for some uncertainties in the fishing strategies of purse seiners operating in this ocean. One of the findings of this study indicated that the temporary moratorium on fishing with FADs (fish aggregating devices), adopted by the European purse-seine fishery in the eastern Atlantic Ocean, produced a decrease in incidental catches of marlins from 600–700 metric tons (t) to less than 300 t. In contrast, this trend was reversed for sailfishes, for which the bycatch increased from 25 t to 45 t. The difficulty of defining indices that express the conservation status in marine fishes and that gauge key ecosystem parameters and the need to promote an ecosystem approach for large-pelagic-resource management which takes into account biologic and socioeconomic criteria are briefly discussed.