MEPS 338:249-256 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps338249

Loggerhead turtle by-catch depends on distance to the coast, independent of fishing effort: implications for conservation and fisheries management

José C. Báez1,2, Raimundo Real1,*, Carlos García-Soto2, José M. de la Serna3, David Macías1,3, Juan A. Camiñas3

1Department of Animal Biology, University of Malaga, 29071 Malaga, Spain
2Spanish Oceanographic Institute, Oceanographic Centre of Santander, Promontorio de San Martín s/n, 39004 Santander, Spain
3Spanish Oceanographic Institute, Oceanographic Centre of Malaga, Puerto Pesquero s/n Apdo. 285, 29640 Fuengirola, Malaga, Spain
*Corresponding author. Email:

ABSTRACT: Drifting longline is considered one of the most dangerous fishing gears for marine turtles and is their principal threat in the western Mediterranean Sea. During the summers of 2000 to 2003, 179 fishing operations were observed onboard a traditional Spanish drifting longline boat in the Balearic Sea (western Mediterranean) to analyse the effects of fishing effort and ecogeographical factors on the by-catch of loggerhead turtles Caretta caretta. We observed 4074 swordfish captured and 675 loggerhead turtles by-caught. The probability of catching at least 1 loggerhead was related to the distance of the fishing-ground to the coast and, to a lesser extent, depth, both independent of fishing effort. The average number of loggerheads captured was spatially structured only according to mean distance to the coast. However, the number of swordfish captured was correlated with fishing effort but was not correlated with distance to the coast or depth. Distance to the coast was correlated with gear retrieval time, sea surface temperature and velocity, and phytoplankton concentration. As the number of loggerheads captured was independent of the number of hooks, the number of fishing operations was a better unit than the number of hooks to assess loggerhead by-catch. Limiting drifting longline fishing activity to within 35 international nautical miles from the coast could reduce loggerhead by-catch substantially without affecting swordfish captures and with little resistance from fishermen.

KEY WORDS: By-catch · Drifting longline · Sea turtle · Loggerhead · Caretta caretta · South-western Mediterranean · Swordfish fishery

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