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Post‐release mortality estimates of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) caught in pelagic longline fisheries based on satellite data and hooking location

Swimmer, Y., Empey Campora, C., Mcnaughton, L., Musyl, M., Parga, M.
Aquatic conservation 2014 v.24 no.4 pp. 498-510
Caretta caretta, aquacultural and fisheries equipment, fisheries, fisheries management, mortality, protected species, sea turtles, telemetry, California, Hawaii
There are few reliable estimates of post‐release mortality for sea turtle species because of the many challenges and costs associated with tracking animals released at sea. In this study, the likelihood of sea turtle mortality as a result of interactions with longline fishing gear was estimated based on satellite telemetry data, such as the number of days an animal was successfully tracked, or days at liberty (DAL) and dive depth data, as well as anatomical hooking locations. Pop‐up satellite archival tags were deployed on 29 loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) caught by the North Pacific US‐based pelagic longline fishery operating from California and Hawaii between 2002 and 2006. Loggerhead turtles were catagorized by observers as shallow‐hooked (55%) if the animal was entangled in the line or the hook was in the flipper, jaw or mouth and could be removed, or deep‐hooked (45%) if the hook was ingested and could not be removed. The vertical movements of turtles were used to infer potential mortalities. Of the 25 tags that reported data, the DAL ranged from 3 to 243 days (mean = 68 days). The DAL was shorter (by nearly 50%) for shallow‐hooked (mean = 48 days, range: 3 to 127) compared to deep‐hooked turtles (mean = 94 days, range: 5 to 243), but these changes were not statistically significant (P = 0.0658). Although aspects of these analyses may be considered speculative, these data provide empirical evidence to indicate that deep‐hooking is not linked to shorter DAL. DAL, anatomical hooking location, and gear removal were evaluated with inferences about the extent of injuries and rates of infection to estimate an overall post‐release mortality rate of 28% (95% bootstrap CI: 16–52%). This range of estimates is consistent with those used to shape some US fisheries management plans, suggesting that conservation goals are being achieved at the expected level and ideally striking a balance between the interests of industry and those of protected species.