Sustainability of elasmobranchs caught as bycatch in a tropical prawn (shrimp) trawl fishery


Stobutzki, Ilona C., Margaret J. Miller, Don S. Heales, and David T. Brewer
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The bycatch of Australia’s northern prawn fishery (NPF) comprises 56 elasmobranch species (16 families). The impact of this fishery on the sustainability of these species has not been addressed. We obtained estimates of catch rates and the within-net survival of elasmobranchs. Carcharhinus tilstoni, C. dussumieri, Rhynchobatus djiddensis, and Himantura toshi represented 65% of the bycatch. For most species, >50% of individuals in the bycatch were immature, and some species recruited to the fishery at birth. For all species combined, 66% of individuals in the bycatch died in the trawl net. The relative sustainability of elasmobranchs caught as bycatch was examined by ranking species with respect to their susceptibility to capture and mortality due to prawn trawling and with respect to their capacity to recover once the population was depleted. The species that were least likely to be sustainable were four species of pristids, Dasyatis brevicaudata, and Himantura jenkinsii. These are bottom-associated batoids that feed on benthic organisms and are highly susceptible to capture in prawn trawls. The recovery capacity of these species was also low according to our criteria. Our results provide a valuable first step towards ensuring the sustainability of elasmobranchs that are caught as bycatch by highlighting species for management and research. The effectiveness of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) in reducing elasmobranch bycatch varied greatly among species but was generally not very effective because most of the captured species were small.