Survival on the rocks: high bycatch in lobster gillnet fisheries threatens hawksbill turtles on rocky reefs along the Eastern Pacific coast of Central America
Small-scale coastal fisheries can cause detrimental impacts to non-target megafauna through bycatch. This can be particularly true when high-use areas for such species overlap with fishing grounds, as is the case with hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) aggregations at lobster gillnet fishing sites in El Salvador and Nicaragua. We quantified hawksbill bycatch by partnering with local fishers to record data for 690 gillnet sets on rocky reefs at Los Cóbanos Reef Marine Protected Area (2008-2009) and Punta Amapala (2012-2014) in El Salvador, and La Salvia (2012-2014) in Nicaragua. Based on 31 observed hawksbill captures, the mean bycatch-per-unit-effort (0.0022; individuals per set = 0.0450) and mortality (0.74) are among the highest reported for the species across fishing gear types and oceanic regions worldwide, and we conservatively estimate that at least 227 juvenile hawksbill captures occurred in lobster gillnet fishing fleets at our sites during the study. Estimated mortality for the 227 hawksbills -which could approach the 74% observed mortality of total captures- from interactions with lobster gillnet fisheries at these sites during the study period may constitute the greatest single source of human-induced in-water mortality for juvenile, sub-adult, and adult hawksbills in the eastern Pacific, and is of grave concern to the population. Based on our findings, we discuss neritic habitat use by hawksbills during their ‘lost years’ and offer recommendations for bycatch reduction strategies, including community-based efforts to enhance sustainable self-governance via the establishment of locally crafted conservationist norms and marine protected areas at important developmental habitat.
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Liles et al. 2017_Survival on the rocks