Indexed on: 09 Jun '10Published on: 09 Jun '10Published in: PloS one
Directed fishing effort for Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM), their primary spawning grounds in the western Atlantic, has been prohibited since the 1980s due to a precipitous decline of the spawning stock biomass. However, pelagic longlines targeted at other species, primarily yellowfin tuna and swordfish, continue to catch Atlantic bluefin tuna in the GOM as bycatch. Spatial and temporal management measures minimizing bluefin tuna bycatch in the GOM will likely become important in rebuilding the western Atlantic bluefin stock. In order to help inform management policy and understand the relative distribution of target and bycatch species in the GOM, we compared the spatiotemporal variability and environmental influences on the catch per unit effort (CPUE) of yellowfin (target) and bluefin tuna (bycatch). Catch and effort data from pelagic longline fisheries observers (1993-2005) and scientific tagging cruises (1998-2002) were coupled with environmental and biological data. Negative binomial models were used to fit the data for both species and Akaike's Information Criterion (corrected for small sample size) was used to determine the best model. Our results indicate that bluefin CPUE had higher spatiotemporal variability as compared to yellowfin CPUE. Bluefin CPUE increased substantially during the breeding months (March-June) and peaked in April and May, while yellowfin CPUE remained relatively high throughout the year. In addition, bluefin CPUE was significantly higher in areas with negative sea surface height anomalies and cooler sea surface temperatures, which are characteristic of mesoscale cyclonic eddies. In contrast, yellowfin CPUE was less sensitive to environmental variability. These differences in seasonal variability and sensitivity to environmental influences suggest that bluefin tuna bycatch in the GOM can be reduced substantially by managing the spatial and temporal distribution of the pelagic longline effort without substantially impacting yellowfin tuna catches.