Optimizing mesh size with escape gaps in a dual-species portunid-trap fishery

Broadhurst, M. K., Tolhurst, D. J., Hughes, B., Raoult, V., Smith, T. M., & Gaston, T. F.
Journal/Publisher Name
Aquaculture and Fisheries
Volume (Issue #)
In press, corrected proof
Contact information
Matt K. Broadhurst, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Fisheries Conservation Technology Unit, National Marine Science Centre, PO Box 4321, Coffs Harbour, NSW, 2450, Australia. matt.broadhurst@dpi.nsw.gov.au

In south-eastern Australia, baited, round traps (comprising 50–57-mm mesh netting) are used to target giant mud crabs (Scylla serrata) and blue swimmer crabs (Portunus armatus) in spatially separated fisheries.  Two experiments assessed the utility of (1) traps partially or completely covered in larger mesh (91 mm to match the minimum legal size of the smaller P. armatus), and (2) any cumulative benefits of fitting species-specific escape gaps. In experiment 1, there were no differences among catches of legal-sized portunids associated with either partial, or complete trap coverage with larger mesh. Irrespective of mesh coverage, both designs of 91-mm traps also retained significantly fewer (by up to 42%) undersized P. armatus and A. australis. In experiment 2, replicate traps completely covered in 91-mm mesh were tested against conventional traps comprising 56-mm mesh, and traps with the same mesh sizes, but also three escape gaps configured for either S. serrata (46 × 120 mm) or P. armatus (36 × 120 mm). All modified traps maintained catches of legal-sized S. serrata, and only the 91-mm traps with escape gaps caught fewer legal-sized P. armatus. Fewer undersized S. serrataP. armatus and Acanthopargus australis (yellowfin bream, mean catches reduced by up to 49%) were retained in all larger-meshed than small-meshed traps, and in all of those traps with escape gaps (by up to 95%) than without. While there were no significant cumulative benefits of escape gaps in larger-meshed traps (measured by a statistical interaction), there was a trend of fewer unwanted catches overall. These data support configuring portunid traps with mesh sizes matching the morphology of the smallest legal-sized target species.