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Leatherback bycatch in an eastern Caribbean artisanal longline fishery

D. Connor Blades, J. Walcott, J. A. Horrocks*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Overlap of small-scale fisheries with sea turtle high use areas is of growing concern, but the extent to which these endangered species interact with fishing gear is rarely known. Structured face-to-face interviews with 22 longline vessel captains were used to make a rapid assessment of sea turtle bycatch by the artisanal longline fleet of Barbados in the eastern Caribbean. Extrapolated estimates suggested that an average of 284 sea turtles yr-1 were caught on 1 896 200 hooks, a bycatch per unit effort (BPUE) of 0.15. Based on extrapolation of the percentage of the observed vessels to the entire fleet, an estimated average of 374 sea turtles yr-1 are caught. The majority of captains (86%) reported leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea to be the predominant species. The Barbados longline fleet operates in sea areas through which leatherbacks pass on their way to and from important nesting beaches in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and the Guianas, and in which they reside during the pre-nesting period as well as throughout the nesting season. Although most sea turtles caught as bycatch were released alive, they often remained hooked with trailing lines. The majority of captains expressed their willingness to be trained in safe-handling and release of hooked and entangled turtles, to increase the probability of their survival.