An assessment of changes in the Ichthyofaunal bycatch of the Tugela Bank prawn trawlers in KwaZulu-Natal.
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Bycatch refers to the portion of the catch that is captured incidentally to the target species and is one of many growing problems facing the world's marine fisheries in recent years. Prawn trawling is one of the world's most lucrative marine fisheries, contributing about 3% to the total annual production of the world's marine fisheries. It is also one the most wasteful because it is associated with large quantities of bycatch. This is because of the high diversity and abundance of other organisms in areas where prawn trawling occurs, and the non-selective nature of the otter trawl used to land prawns. The South African shallow water prawn trawl fishery is typical of penaeid fisheries, and operates on the Tugela Bank off northern KwaZulu-Natal. The bycatch of penaeid prawn trawlers operating on the Tugela Bank was analysed between March 2003-July 2004 as a follow up to an initial study between May 1989-June 1992. The aim of this study was to determine if there has been any change in bycatch species composition over the 13-years and to determine the impacts of trawling on the environment. Catch composition data were recorded from 168 trawls processed onboard trawlers and on-shore. A total of 122 species was identified with teleosts contributing more than 60% to relative abundance by number. Comparison between the 1989-1992 and 2003-2004 data sets showed that although the species compositions were similar, there was an increase in the relative abundance of pelagic species. It is not clear if the change is due to trawling impacts or due to fluctuations in recruitment of these taxa. The annual discarded bycatch was estimated at 88 tonnes in 2003 and the prawn catch was estimated at 1 1 tonnes, both substantially lower than in 1 989-1992. There was no difference in discard rate between trawls from shallow and medium depths. However, there were significant differences in discard rates between large and medium gears, and warm (December-April) and cool (May- November) seasons. Kolmogorov-Smirnov tests revealed that there were significant differences between the 1990s and 2000s length frequency distributions of three sciaenid species (Otolithes ruber, Johnius dorsalis and J. fuscolineatus), which all showed an increase in fish size for the 2003- 2004 data. This assessment, however, is confounded by a gear effect as mesh size differs between the two sample periods. Based on the results of the study, management recommendations were made to improve the management of the Tugela Bank prawn trawl fishery by reducing bycatch. It was recommended that the observer programme continue for further investigation into the changes in species dynamics. Further research on BRDs (Bycatch Reducing Devices) and gear types that reduce bycatch is also recommended.