Working with lobster gillnet fishers to reduce hawksbill bycatch and mortality
Lobster gillnet fisheries have been identified as a primary threat to hawksbills in the eastern Pacific. Given that these fisheries operate almost exclusively in nearshore areas, the neritic home ranges and coastal migration paths of hawksbills increase the likelihood of potential bycatch interactions. In 2011 ICAPO began a study to identify important hawksbill habitat within the Gulf of Fonseca, a large at-sea inlet located between the nesting sites in the Bahia Jiquilisco (El Salvador) and Estero Padre Ramos (Nicaragua) and under joint jurisdiction of the countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. Extensive interview surveys led to reports of high hawksbill bycatch in lobster gillnet fisheries operating out of El Maculis in El Salvador and La Salvia in Nicaragua. Based on interview results, in late 2012 ICAPO began spearheading fisheries observations at these two sites, leading to the highest hawksbill bycatch rates recorded to date in the EP Ocean. Exacerbating the negative impacts of these fisheries is the fact that we observed only a small percentage of the entire lobster gillnetting fleet. As such, lobster fisheries at these sites represent a primary threat to the population.
In 2013 and 2014, ICAPO tested lobster traps as a potential sustainable alternative to lobster gillnets. However, after using various trap models, bait types and trap fishing locations, it was found that traps were not a viable alternative to gillnets (i.e., traps were ineffective at capturing lobster). Considering the catastrophically high bycatch and mortality of hawksbills that continues to occur in these fisheries, additional efforts to identify gear-types that will reduce hawksbill bycatch rates and protect hawksbill hotspots are fundamental to the recovery of the population in the EP.
The project is currently increasing research and data collection to include information to characterize these fisheries, including non-sea turtle bycatch (species, quantities, sizes, etc.), percentage of time dedicated to fishing lobster versus other target species (e.g., finfish), additional gear types used and fleet size. These data are essential to understanding fishery dynamics and developing potential solutions to hawksbill bycatch. A more thorough understanding of the fishery will also allow for evaluations of ecosystem solutions, with implications for lobster fisheries in other ocean regions.
Current project activities include 1) conducting year-round observations to document and track temporal and spatial aspects of hawksbill bycatch; and 2) carrying out an in-depth characterization of lobster gillnet fisheries at these sites.
- Document bycatch and mortality of hawksbill turtles at this critical foraging ground.
- Gain a comprehensive understanding of these lobster gillnet fisheries to aid in identifying bycatch solutions.