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Bycatch in the West Greenland lumpfish fishery, with particular focus on the common eider population

Flemming Ravn Merkel*, Søren Post, Morten Frederiksen, Zita Bak-Jensen, Julius Nielsen, Rasmus Berg Hedeholm

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Incidental bycatch is a well-known challenge in gillnet fisheries throughout the world, and the fishery for North Atlantic lumpfish Cyclopterus lumpus roe is no exception. In Greenland, the fishery was MSC-certified in 2015 but has pending conditions related to bycatch quantification, enforcement and mitigation strategies. To improve this situation and to assess the potential impact of bycatch, we collected independent on-board observer data on non-target fish and seabirds over two seasons (2019 and 2021). We recorded six fish species, but only spotted wolffish Anarhichas minor constituted more than 1% of the lumpfish landings. The bycatch of fish likely had little impact on the involved fish stocks. We recorded four seabird species, of which common eider Somateria mollissima was most common. When extrapolated to the entire West Greenland lumpfish fishery, the estimated bycatch of common eider was considerably higher in 2019 (19,938; 95% CI: 3,486-59,661) than in 2021 (9,802: 1,260-29,940) due to a longer fishing season in 2019. On average, for 2019 and 2021, the bycatch was modelled to reduce the growth potential for the West Greenland winter population by 51%. In comparison, the current hunting level (16,538 birds/year) reduced the growth potential by 30%. The larger impact of bycatch was mainly due to a larger proportion of adults and females being targeted. The common eider bycatch impacts mainly the breeding population in Canada and Southwest Greenland and less so in Northwest Greenland. As mitigation we recommend temporal closures of the fishery unless modified gillnets, which markedly reduce bycatch, become available.