Trade-offs in the Design of Fishery Closures: Management of Silky Shark Bycatch in the Eastern Pacific Ocean Tuna Fishery

Watson, J., T. Essington, C. Lennert-Cody, and M. Hall
Journal/Publisher Name
Conservation Biology
Volume (Issue #)
Page #s
Contact information
Bycatch—the incidental catch of nontarget species—is a principal concern in marine conservation and fisheries management. In the eastern Pacific Ocean tuna fishery, a large fraction of nonmammal bycatch is captured by purse-seine gear when nets are deployed around floating objects. We examined the spatial distribution of a dominant species in this fishery’s bycatch, the apex predator silky shark (Carcharhinus falciformis), from 1994 to 2005 to determine whether spatial closures, areas where fishing is prohibited, might effectively reduce the bycatch of this species. We then identified candidate locations for fishery closures that specifically considered the trade-off between bycatch reduction and the loss of tuna catch and evaluated ancillary conservation benefits to less commonly captured taxa. Smoothed spatial distributions of silky shark bycatch did not indicate persistent small areas of especially high bycatch for any size class of shark over the 12-year period. Nevertheless, bycatch of small silky sharks (<90 cm total length) was consistently higher north of the equator during all years. On the basis of this distribution, we evaluated nearly 100 candidate closure areas between 5◦N and 15◦ N that could have reduced, by as much as 33%, the total silky shark bycatch while compromising only 12% of the tuna catch. Although silky sharks are the predominant species of elasmobranchs caught as bycatch in this fishery, closures also suggested reductions in the bycatch of other vulnerable taxa, including other shark species and turtles. Our technique provides an effective method with which to balance the costs and benefits of conservation in fisheries management. Spatial closures are a viable management tool, but implementation should be preceded by careful consideration of the consequences of fishing reallocation.