Potential overlap between cetaceans and commercial groundfish fleets that operate in the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem

Blake E. Feist, Marlene A. Bellman, Elizabeth A. Becker, Karin A. Forney, Michael J. Ford, and Phillip S. Levin

Cetacean populations are confronted by many anthropogenic threats, including commercial whaling, noise, vessel collisions, gear entanglement, exploitative competition, habitat disturbance, and global climate change. Evidence indicates that commercial fishing activities can have both direct (e.g., gear entanglement and bycatch) and indirect (e.g., prey reduction and noise) effects on cetaceans. However, few studies have addressed the potential vulnerability of a given cetacean species to an entire fishing fleet that operates over a large marine ecosystem. In this study, we overlaid spatially explicit multiyear predicted mean densities of 11 cetacean species and 1 species guild within the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem with data for commercial fishing effort of the fixed-gear, at-sea hake mid-water trawl, and bottom trawl fleets of the west coast groundfish fishery. We quantified the exposure of each species to each fleet type by multiplying the predicted mean cetacean density by the measured fishing fleet effort. We found large interspecific and interfleet variability in the overlap between cetaceans and fishing fleets. Although many of the species had relatively low overlap rates, others had substantial exposure to some of the fishing fleets, particularly those species with more nearshore distributions. Direct mortality from these fleets has been documented to be low, but our results indicate that there is opportunity for fisheries interactions with some cetacean species, particularly in the fixed-gear fleet. Our analyses make up an important first step in generating formal risk assessments for quantification of the impacts of various fishing fleets on populations of cetacean species that occur in the California Current.

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