Fisheries bycatch, used to describe the accidental mortality and injury of non-target species, is a complex interdisciplinary issue that has been recognized since the 1970's. Bycatch is a major factor impacting marine megafauna populations (marine mammals, sea birds, sea turtles), and burdening livelihoods of coastal, small-scale fisheries (SSF). Due to this, bycatch is not only a biological problem, but less obviously an economic and social issue. Developing countries with strong presence of artisanal or SSF often lack documentation of bycatch due to limited funds and personnel, technical training, and lack of reporting. Without taking direct action now to explore risk and opportunities to reduce bycatch in areas of high density SSF with those directly involved (i.e. local fishermen), loss of gear, revenue, and marine megafauna will continue to rise creating both significant local and economic effects.
Northern Peruvian waters mark the intersection of two large oceanic current systems. The warm, southern-traveling Equatorial Current system converges with the northern-traveling cold, nutrient-rich Humboldt Current system. These waters support both abundant marine life and the local fisherman who harvest the commercially valuable species. The dominant gear types aboard these vessels are passive gillnets and longline which are known to have the highest rates of marine mammal bycatch globally. In recent years, there has been an increase
in entanglements of the Southeast Pacific humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) from gillnets and longline fishing gear in the northern coast of Peru. Whale entanglements cause an estimated average loss of $300 USD to the fishermen per gillnet pane 6. More importantly, there is risk to the fishers themselves if they decide to engage in untangling the animals. Currently, there is little regulation and many bycatch incidents go unreported.
In collaboration with Pro Delphinus, a Peruvian non-profit committed to marine conservation research and outreach, my research focuses on the Southeast Pacific humpback whale (HBW) in an ecologically significant but threatened area of their habitat in two fishing towns of northern Peru, Mancora and Cancas. Entanglements pose great threat to their recovery from whaling as their biannual migratory route and southern front of their breeding regions overlaps with these coastal fisheries.