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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00994

Bycatch in gillnet fisheries threatens Critically Endangered small cetaceans and many others

Robert L. Brownell Jr*, Randall R. Reeves, Andrew J. Read, Brian D. Smith, Peter O. Thomas, Katherine Ralls, Masao Amano, Per Berggren, Aung Myo Chit, Tim Collins, Rohan Currey, Louella Dolar, Tilen Genov, Rod Hobbs, Danielle Kreb, Helene Marsh, Mei Zhigang, William F. Perrin, Somany Phay, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, Gerry E. Ryan, Kim E. W. Shelden, Elisabeth Slooten, Barbara L. Taylor, Omar Vidal, Wang Ding, Tara S. Whitty, John Y. Wang

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The conservation status of small cetaceans has significantly worsened since the 1980s, when the bajii was the only critically endangered species of dolphin or porpoise. Now the baiji is extinct and 13 other species, subspecies, or populations (hereafter units-to-conserve or units) of small cetaceans are listed as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List. Bycatch is the main threat to 11 of the CR units. Entanglement in gillnets contributed to the extinction of the baiji and is responsible for the imminent extinction of the vaquita. Unfortunately, there is no simple technical solution to the problem of bycatch of small cetaceans. If the 8 CR units with 100 or fewer remaining individuals are to be saved, conservation zones must be established where gillnets are eliminated and bans on their use are strictly enforced. Recent experience with the vaquita in Mexico demonstrates that enforcement of such conservation zones can be very difficult. Ineffective enforcement is also a problem for at least 4 of the other CR units. Time is very short and, unless major efforts are made now to address the bycatch problem, the prospects for CR small cetaceans and other at-risk aquatic megafauna are grim. The ultimate long-term solution to the bycatch problem is the development of efficient, inexpensive alternative fishing gear that can replace gillnets without jeopardizing the livelihoods of fishermen. Good fishery governance and the direct involvement of fishing communities are also essential to the successful conservation of most threatened populations of small cetaceans.