Evaluating sustainability of fisheries bycatch mortality for marine megafauna: a review of conservation reference points for data-limited populations
Moore, JE and Curtis, KA and Lewison, RL and Dillingham, PW and Cope, JM and Fordham, SV and Heppell, SS and Pardo, JM and Simpfendorfer, CA and Tuck, GN and Zhou, S, Evaluating sustainability of fisheries bycatch mortality for marine megafauna: a review of conservation reference points for data-limited populations, Environmental Conservation, 40, (4) pp. 329-344. ISSN 0376-8929 (2013) [Refereed Article]
Fisheries bycatch threatens populations of marine megafauna such as marine mammals, turtles, seabirds, sharks and rays, but fisheries impacts on non-target populations are often difficult to assess due to factors such as data limitation, poorly defined management objectives and lack of quantitative bycatch reduction targets. Limit reference points can be used to address these issues and thereby facilitate adoption and implementation of mitigation efforts. Reference points based on catch data and life history analysis can identify sustainability limits for bycatch with respect to defined population goals even when data are quite limited. This can expedite assessments for large numbers of species and enable prioritization of management actions based on mitigation urgency and efficacy. This paper reviews limit reference point estimators for marine megafauna bycatch, with the aim of highlighting their utility in fisheries management and promoting best practices for use. Different estimators share a common basic structure that can be flexibly applied to different contexts depending on species life history and available data types. Information on demographic vital rates and abundance is required; of these, abundance is the most data-dependent and thus most limiting factor for application. There are different approaches for handling management risk stemming from uncertainty in reference point and bycatch estimates. Risk tolerance can be incorporated explicitly into the reference point estimator itself, or probability distributions may be used to describe uncertainties in bycatch and reference point estimates, and risk tolerance may guide how those are factored into the management process. Either approach requires simulation-based performance testing such as management strategy evaluation to ensure that management objectives can be achieved. Factoring potential sources of bias into such evaluations is critical. This paper reviews the technical, operational, and political challenges to widespread application of reference points for management of marine megafauna bycatch, while emphasizing the importance of developing assessment frameworks that can facilitate sustainable fishing practices.