An Assessment of Sea Turtle, Marine Mammal and Seabird Bycatch in the Wider Caribbean Region
Sea turtles, marine mammals and sea birds are vulnerable to higher mortality rates as a direct function of incidental capture (bycatch) in marine fisheries. Their migratory behavior exposes them to multiple fishing gear types and fishing practices and efforts to understand the rates of interaction between these taxa and fishing necessarily entails analysis of data over large spatial areas (ocean-basin) and multiple types of fishing activities. The acquisition the requisite data, however, requires considerable resources and many regions in the world are data-poor with respect to bycatch, including the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR) in the west central Atlantic Ocean basin. This dissertation presents the results of multiple strategies used to assess sea turtle, marine mammal and seabird bycatch in the WCR, with a particular focus on sea turtle bycatch. The research incorporated a synthetic review of the literature, expert consultation, statistical techniques, and geospatial analyses to assess the bycatch seascape for the region. I conclude that sea turtle bycatch in the WRC is significantly linked to turtle rookeries, especially those on the continental land mass and in the southern section of the Caribbean basin, in large part because of the near shore artisanal nature of the fisheries and the importance of these habitats for foraging and reproduction. The limited information on marine mammal bycatch does not permit robust inferences, but it clearly identifies threats to at least one vulnerable marine mammal species, the tucuxi (Sotalia fluviatilis). Information on seabird bycatch was even more limited; the most vulnerable seabird populations occur in the higher latitudes (temperate zones) while the seabird populations in the WCR face significant threats from habitat loss and over-exploitation. This dissertation proposes specific recommendations for improving and advancing the information base for a regional, ecosystem-level management and mitigation of bycatch.
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