An investigation of the ichthyofaunal by-catch of the Tugela Bank prawn trawlers.
Fennessy, Sean Thomas.
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The by-catch of penaeid prawn trawlers operating on the Tugela Bank of Natal was analysed at irregular intervals for a period of three years, from May 1989 to June 1992. This was primarily in response to claims by Iinefishermen that trawlers were catching and discarding juvenile Iinefish species. Catch and effort data were recorded from 159 trawls, and catch composition data from 110 trawls, over a depth range of 20 to 45 meters. A total of 108 teleost species were identified in the by-catch, six of which comprised 80 percent of overall teleost abundance by number. Many of these fish were small-sized shoaling species, which increased their vulnerability to trawlers, and the majority were considered to be estuarine-associated. Multivariate analysis of samples showed there to be significant differences in relative abundance of species by season and depth. Annual average by-catch and discarded quantities were estimated at 400 and 315 tonnes respectively. Discard:retained catch ratios' ranged from 4.25 (± 1.19) : 1 to 15.48 (± 3.86) : 1 for shallow (20-33 meters) and deep (33-45 meters) trawls respectively. Only one important Iinefish, the squaretail kob, Argyrosomus thorpei, occurred in prawn trawl catches. These fish were spawned four to six months prior to being caught and appeared to use the Tugela Bank as a nursery area. They were seasonally abundant, occurring mostly from January to March. During these months trawling effort was generally low, as the prawns had not yet migrated offshore in quantity. Per-recruit analyses showed that the removal of these age 0 fish by trawlers reduced yield-per-recruit and spawning biomass-per-recruit values for the A. thorpei fishery. Aspects of the biology of three common sciaenids occurring in trawl catches, Johnius dussumieri, J. amblycephalus and Otolithes ruber, were investigated. Most of the fish examined were juveniles which utilised the Tugela Bank as a nursery area, owing to the existence of suitable food, and the turbid waters afforded them protection from predators. Standard biological data, such as length frequencies, lengthweight relationships and size at 50% maturity are presented. Based on the data collected and the analyses presented here, management recommendations are presented, which include the improvement of the collection of catch and effort data for the Tugela Bank prawn trawlers; communication of the results of this study to prawn trawler operators in order to encourage the reduction of trawling effort early in the year; consideration to be given to the re-surveying of Tugela Bank ichthyofaunal by-catch in the future in order to assess potential long-term effects of trawling in the area.