Co-occurrence of bycatch and target species in the groundfish demersal trawl fishery of the U.S. west coast; with special consideration of rebuilding stocks


Heery, Eliza, and Jason M. Cope
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Bycatch and resultant discard mortality are issues of global concern. The groundfish demersal trawl fishery on the west coast of the United States is a multispecies fishery with significant catch of target and nontarget species. These catches are of particular concern in regard to species that have previously been declared overfished and are currently rebuilding biomass back to target levels. To understand these interactions better, we used data from the West Coast Groundfish Observer Program in a series of cluster analyses to evaluate 3 questions: 1) Are there identifiable associations between species caught in the bottom trawl fishery; 2) Do species that are undergoing population rebuilding toward target biomass levels (“rebuilding species”) cluster with targeted species in a consistent way; 3) Are the relationships between rebuilding bycatch species and target species more resolved at particular spatial scales or are relationships spatially consistent across the whole data set? Two strong species clusters emerged—a deepwater slope cluster and a shelf cluster—neither of which included rebuilding species. The likelihood of encountering rebuilding rockfish species is relatively low. To evaluate whether weak clustering of rebuilding rockfish was attributable to their low rate of occurrence, we specified null models of species occurrence. Results indicated that the ability to predict occurrence of rebuilding rockfish when target species were caught was low. Cluster analyses performed at a variety of spatial scales indicated that the most reliable clustering of rebuilding species was at the spatial scale of individual fishing ports. This finding underscores the value of spatially resolved data for fishery management.