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The Oceanic Fisheries Programme of the Pacific Community (SPC) provides training programs for SIDS fisheries officers, observers and others, to assist them with monitoring, recording and reporting bycatch.

Baseline research on bycatch

Ecological risk assessments identify the animals that are most vulnerable to being inadvertently caught during fishing. The most vulnerable are animals that interact more with the tuna targeted in fishing or with fishing vessels, and that also reproduce slowly. The most common ones are sharks, turtles, marine mammals, and seabirds.

Bycatch numbers vary with fishing methods. It is hard to get sufficient data on bycatch for methods of fishing where there are fewer official observers, but baseline research summarises what is known.

  • In the purse-seine fishery, about 1–2% (by weight) of the total catch is bycatch. Bycatch from fishing of free-swimming tuna is lower on average (1.0%) than bycatch from fishing using FADs (2.0%). Dolphins are rarely encircled by purse seines in the WCPO; the most significant bycatch species are sharks. In 2017, SPC produced a report on bycatch in purse-seine fisheries for the years 2003–2016. SPC’s Neville Smith provides an overview of the report (2.09 mins).

  • Rates of bycatch in the longline fishery are considerably higher, at around 30% of the total catch. However, much of this is retained bycatch (which is called byproduct), which has some commercial value.

Most sharks are caught in the longline fishery, with the purse-seine fishery estimated to catch only 2–3% of the total. Most of the WCPFC’s designated key shark species – they include shortfin mako, silky, oceanic whitetip, thresher, porbeagle, hammerhead, and whale sharks – must be conserved, and action is occurring to reduce bycatch of these species.

Billfish continue to form a significant proportion of the non-target catch, but are mostly retained due to their commercial value.

Seabird deaths due to longlines are very low in the tropical WCPO compared with deaths in higher latitudes, where albatrosses and petrels, in particular, are prone to becoming caught. But low observer coverage on many longline fleets means that the number of interactions is largely unknown.

Other research projects

Enough sharks end up as bycatch that some populations are threatened with extinction. Photo credit: Francisco Blaha