Grenadier Bycatch in the Toothfish Longline Fishery in the Ross Sea, Antarctica
Stuart Hanchet, Richard O’Driscoll, Sira Ballara, and Alistair Dunn
Abstract.—An exploratory longline fishery for toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) in the Ross Sea, Antarctica has been carried out since 1997. The main bycatch species in this fishery is the grenadier, Macrourus whitsoni. No assessments have been carried out of the impact of the fishery on grenadiers, although they have life history characteristics that make them vulnerable to overexploitation. The aims of this research were two-fold; firstly, to characterize the bycatch fishery and to determine factors affecting bycatch rates; and secondly to examine potential methods of monitoring its abundance. A standardized CPUE analysis was used to determine factors affecting bycatch rates of grenadiers in the fishery. The analysis was based on fine-scale haul-by-haul data from all vessels in the fishery from 1999 to 2005. The major factors influencing grenadier bycatch were vessel, area, and depth. Catch rates of grenadiers were highest along the continental slope of the Ross Sea in depths from 600 to 1000 m, and there was an order of magnitude difference in grenadier catch rates between different vessels. Examination of vessel characteristics showed that catch rates of grenadiers were significantly lower with the Spanish line system than with the autoline system. There are several plausible reasons for this difference, including hook location with respect to the seabed, bait type, and differences in levels of reporting of bycatch between vessels. Various approaches to monitoring and assessing grenadiers in the Ross Sea fishery were explored. We conclude that the year effect from the standardized CPUE analysis is unlikely to be monitoring abundance but instead probably reflect changes in gear characteristics, fisher behavior, and targeting of effort. Trends in the length composition of the catch are confounded with depth, and are also of limited value at present. We consider that the best approach to obtaining abundance estimates for grenadiers in the Ross Sea would be to carry out a random bottom trawl survey of the continental slope.