• Toothed whale interactions with longline fisheries in Alaska

      Peterson, Megan J.; Carothers, Courtney; Mueter, Franz; Matkin, Craig; Criddle, Keith (2014-05)
      Killer whale (Orcinus orca) and sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) depredation occurs when whales damage or remove fish caught on longline gear. This project used a mixed methods approach incorporating Generalized Linear and Additive Modeling techniques and social research methods, such as semi-directed interviews and written questionnaires, to evaluate: 1) spatio-temporal depredation trends, 2) depredation effects on groundfish catch rates, and 3) socio-economic implications of depredation avoidance and changing fishing practices due to whale interactions. The occurrence of killer whale depredation varied by target species and area based on National Marine Fisheries Service longline survey data and observer commercial fishery data collected from 1998 to 2012 in the Bering Sea, Aleutian Islands, and Western Gulf of Alaska. The percentage of commercial fishery sets affected by killer whales was highest in Bering Sea fisheries for: sablefish (Anoplopomafimbria; 21.4%), Greenland turbot (Reinhardtius hippoglossoides; 9.9%), and Pacific halibut (Hippogolossus stenolepis; 6.9%). Killer whale depredation was more common on the standardized longline survey (9.2-34.6% skates impacted) than the commercial sablefish fishery (1.0-21.4% sets impacted) in all three management areas. Catch reductions were consistent across data sets. Average commercial fleet catch reductions ranged from 35-69% for sablefish, Pacific halibut and Greenland turbot (p<0.001); survey catch reductions ranged from 51-73% (p<0.001). Sablefish catch per unit effort, gear haul time and location significantly impacted the proportion of sets depredated. Fishermen reported changing their fishing practices in response to depredating whales by soaking gear longer to "wait the whales out" or moving to different fishing sites. These avoidance measures resulted in increased operation costs and opportunity costs in lost time. In a follow-up analysis based on data collected by fishermen in 2011 and 2012, it was found that killer whale depredation avoidance measures resulted in an average additional cost of $494 per vessel-day for fuel and crew food. Opportunity costs of time lost by fishermen averaged $486 per additional vessel-day on the grounds. These results provide insight into the potential impacts of whale depredation on fish stock abundance indices and commercially important fisheries in Alaska and will inform future research on apex predator-fisheries interactions.